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Rugby Union: Wales return is a `one-off' for Howley.

Byline: Simon Thomas Chief Rugby Writer

ROB Howley insists his appearance at the Commonwealth Games will be a one-off return to the international arena.

The former Wales skipper retired from Test rugby in April after winning his 59th and final cap against Scotland. Now he has been lured back to play for his country once again at next month's Sevens tournament at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

Given that he will rubbing shoulders with some of the sport's biggest names in his new club career with Wasps, one wonders whether a reinvigorated Howley might be tempted to make a representative return in the 15-a-side game.

But the 31-year-old is adamant that those days are behind him.

``When I retired from international rugby it was to spend more time with my family and that remains the case,'' he said. ``I've got two young kids and I want to spend quality time with them.

``I felt it was either a case of retiring when I did or going on to the World Cup.

``If I'd carried on, there wouldn't have been an appropriate moment to stop for another 18 months.''

However, when the offer came from Sevens coach Colin Hillman to represent Wales at the Commonwealth Games, Howley had no qualms about accepting.

He missed out on taking part in the last Games in Malaysia in 1998 when he was withdrawn by new national coach Graham Henry.

So he's pleased to be able to fill in one of the few remaining blanks on his sporting CV, having been included in a 12-man Wales squad.

``When Colin rang me up, I was only too glad to say yes,'' he said.

``Sevens has played a massive part in my rugby career.

``I played the game a lot in the early 90s and it gave me a great foundation.

``There's no hiding in sevens. It tests your skills to the limit and gives you the chance to take on players in one on one situations.

``I'm just looking forward to the opportunity of playing in the Commonwealth Games.

``I'd like to think we can put up a good showing - we're there to compete for a medal.'' Howley could face competition on that front from three of his new club colleagues, with Wasps trio Phil Greening, Josh Lewsey and Paul Sampson all in the England squad. ``Their selection has helped me because representing your country at sevens is seen as valuable and worthwhile at Wasps,'' he said.

After his trip to Manchester, Howley will turn his attention fully to his new career with Wasps.

He joined the London club last week after failing to secure a two-year extension to his existing contract with Cardiff, who agreed to release him a year early.

``I'd have liked to have stayed at the Arms Park, but, for whatever reasons, contract negotiations broke down,'' he said.

``Now I've got a new challenge ahead of me and I'm looking forward to it.

``I'm going to be playing against players that I've looked up to over the years.

``When you think of the scrum-halves in England - people like Bryan Redpath, Matt Dawson, Kyran Bracken and Agustin Pichot - that's a motivating factor in itself.

``There's an intensity to the Premiership, week-in, weekout, that you don't have down here in Wales.

``I think Wasps is a club going places. They have got a lot of talent coming through and a top coach in Warren Gatland.

``It's an adventure to look forward to.''


ONE MORE CHALLENGE Rob Howley will head for Manchester as part of the Wales Commonwealth Games Sevens squad skippered by Jason Forster (background).
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUW
Date:Jul 16, 2002
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