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The Kiwi invasion of Irish rugby continues. The latest recruit is Ross Nesdale - yesterday named in the squad following the withdrawal of Allen Clarke through injury.

Nesdale was surprised but equally thrilled to discover the news of his first full international cap.

And his first thought was to phone the folks back home - but then he had second thoughts. "They will still be asleep," he said.

Nesdale's folks live 30 miles north of Palmerston North, not the borough in Dublin, but a town in New Zealand.

Clarke's enforced withdrawal due to a broken bone in his hand has elevated Nesdale quicker than he ever imagined.

The 5ft 10inch, 15-and-a-half stone powerhouse is the latest Kiwi recruit to make Ireland his adopted country.

Kurt McQuilkin is a current Irish squad member, Sean McCahill has some Irish A experience while Mike Brewer is a coach to the Irish forwards.

He only arrived in the northern hemisphere last April, armed with an Irish passport, to take up an offer with Newcastle.

Now he finds himself stepping into the shoes of Keith Wood but Nesdale is used to living in greater shadows.

He was understudy to the great Sean Fitzpatrick for longer than he cares to remember and that in effect triggered the desire to uproot from home and move to this side of the world.

"Every year I was waiting for Sean to retire but it never happened. It was inhibiting my progress so I decided to move," said Nesdale - who played 30 times for Auckland.

"I'm happy with the decision. I applied for an Irish passport five years ago and it was my aim to go as far as I can in international rugby. That's why I opted for Ireland. Most of my family members live in this part of the world anyway," he said.

Nesdale qualifies for Ireland because his paternal grandfather hailed from Bantry, near Cork.

His father is a first cousin of Tom Nesdale who captained Garryowen in the 1960s and was capped for Ireland against France in 1961.

A native of Manawatu the son of a farmer had a spell with Auckland University before moving to Auckland and was a replacement hooker for the All-Blacks against the Lions in the 1993 Dunedin Park test match.

Nesdale never expected to get anywhere near the Irish side when he declared but by a process of elimination he now finds himself facing Wales in the most important match of his career.

He admitted: "I stayed in Dublin on Sunday night and I saw Pat Whelan on TV saying that Allen Clarke was doubtful because of a hand injury. Only then did I think I was close.

"Obviously when Keith Wood got injured the cards started to fall my way but this has happened quicker than I expected."

Nesdale's previous Irish international experience was as replacement hooker in the two A matches against South Africa and France.

"I now feel part of this Irish squad after those two matches but I pack down every week with Nick Popplewell at Newcastle so obviously Poppy has given me a good insight into the Irish set up," he added.

Whelan has watched Nesdale twice and has no worries about him: "He's almost as good a thrower as Allen Clarke and he's an abrasive sort with plenty of experience. Nesdale is looking forward to the challenge despite the nature of the call-up."

"It's not an ideal way to profit from someone else's misfortune but I'll seize the chance with both hands," admitted Nesdale.

Wales are in a sweat over the fitness of both Rob Howley and Scott Quinnell for the Saturday's clash.

Scrum-half Howley will decide today whether he has recovered from a shoulder injury suffered in training.

Richmond No 8 Quinnell injured his toe playing for his club against Bedford and won't train with the rest of the Welsh squad today.

If Cardiff star Howley is ruled out then Wales will promote Pontypridd's Paul John from the bench.

Howley, already favourite for the Lions No 9 jersey, said: "I'm only 50-50 at the moment and the shoulder is painful when I bring my arm across my chest. If there is any doubt I'll pull out."
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 28, 1997
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