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Popham wants Wales reprieve; RUGBY: COUNTDOWN TO THE HEINEKEN CUP.

Byline: PAUL JONES

ALIX POPHAM is hoping to send Warren Gatland a message next week: Pick me for Wales.

Popham aims to be direct and to the point - just as he was when he played his best rugby for his country.

The big, blond back rower will be leading Brive into their opening Heineken Cup clash against his former team, the Scarlets, at Parc y Scarlets.

Popham, 29, has not added to his 33 caps since his left the home front for the riches of French rugby just over a year ago.

Wales coach Gatland hardly took kindly to that move. He was trying to deter deserters at the time, and there had allegedly been a bust-up between the two following Wales' victory at Twickenham in 2008.

But despite Gatland's threat to favour home-based players - a 'law' he has applied inconsistently - Popham still reckons he could have a Test future.

"I've not heard from anyone regarding Wales, but I don't believe my Wales career is necessarily over," he says. "You have to make your argument out there on the field.

"A lot of things are said about players playing outside of Wales and yes, at times I feel as though I am out of sight and out of mind. "But I am sure that if I can come back next week, and show that I'm still capable of cutting it at the highest level, then somebody might take a look.

"I would love to play for Wales again, but all I can do is continue to play well and keep my fingers crossed.

"It's been well documented about certain injuries in the back row - and if I was given the chance I would jump at it.

"I didn't come to France to finish my career with Wales, I came here to better myself and to experience a different culture. I have improved as a player and hopefully I can show that next weekend."

There was a time when Brive was a byword for mayhem and madness in European rugby - and most especially when they came into contact with any side from Wales.

Former Scotland captain Dr Rob Wainwright once said that putting Welsh teams against Brive was like "adding nitric acid to glycerine. Put them together, tap the test tube, and whoof!" But the era that was exemplified by Pontypridd's infamous Battle of Brive in 1997 has long passed.

The fiery French club has been diluted by a succession of foreigners such as Riki Flutey, Andy Goode and Steve Thompson.

Popham is now part of that foreign legion, but looking forward to seeing his old club in new surroundings - he left the Scarlets when they were still playing at Stradey Park.

"When I was with the Scarlets we were watching the stadium going up," he recalls. "I always felt regret that I had not played there, so when we were drawn in the same pool, I was over the moon.

"I am sure there will be some friendly banter over the next few days, but when that whistle goes, it will all come to an end. Any idle chat will have to stop there.

"Brive have had a decent start to the season, but need to sort out our away form - what better way to start than winning in Llanelli?" Brive are eighth in the French championship with three victories from eight.

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BLOND AMBITION: Popham hasn't written off his Wales career
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 4, 2009
Words:573
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