Sports

What became of the players and Wales coach caught up in rugby’s biggest scandal

“I have never agreed with having people in the team whose only connection with Wales is having a Welsh dresser in the house.”

So said Bobby Windsor amid the great eligibility scandal that rocked the sport 21 years ago this weekend.

It was one way of looking at it.

But Grannygate, as the affair became known, was a major row by any standard.

At its heart were Brett Sinkinson and Shane Howarth, two New Zealanders who had been playing for Wales through Welsh grandparents – though it turned out neither player had such a connection.

Scotland’s Dave Hilton was in a similar situation and questions were raised about others, both then and later.

A two-day enquiry accepted that Howarth had mistakenly believed he had a Welsh grandfather.

The failure by the Welsh Rugby Union to check credentials was on those players who’d played for them in error was “clearly grossly negligent” and could be “construed as recklessness”.

The union admitted mistakes had been made but in good faith.

A severe reprimand was issued with the union having to share costs of the hearing in Dublin.

A writer commented that there had been more whitewash flying around in the Irish capital that day than had ever been used to mark out the pitch at Lansdowne Road.

The whole affair wasn’t rugby’s finest hour.

Anyway, here’s how life turned out for some of those touched by the rumpus.

Brett Sinkinson

Let’s start with one of the central figures.

Sinkinson had been backpacking in Europe and somehow ended up making it to Neath and playing rugby.

Let’s be honest, the probability is he wasn’t armed with a grand plan to deceive the game’s authorities.

But fate being what it is, he still ended up being snared in one of the sport’s biggest scandals.

A quiet man, the openside flanker had never seemed entirely sure where the grandfather on which his Wales cap credentials were based came from. Was it Carmarthen or Caernarfon? Not 100 percent sure.

It turned out the chap in question had come into this world in Oldham.

“That’s not that far from Wales,” someone said.

Sadly for Sinkinson, and not unreasonably, the International Rugby Board needed more.

His Test career was put on hold until he had gained a residency qualification.

“I never set out to deceive anyone,” he said after the story broke.

“It is still a bit unclear.

“My grandfather was not registered for a month or so after his birth, which maybe caused confusion.”



Brett Sinkinson on his doorstep in Neath in 2000

Neath RFC historian Mike Price has since said : “Brett wasn’t the type to knowingly deceive anyone.

“We just knew at the time that he had come over from New Zealand. The next thing we knew he was playing for Wales.

“What you have to remember is that the eligibility rules were — and we’re talking major understatement here — looser in those days. I can think of a couple of examples of players appearing for countries for whom they were, shall we say, questionably qualified.

“I guess it was up to the authorities to check the paperwork.

“For whatever reason in Brett and Shane’s case, it seems that didn’t happen.”

Price reckoned in some games Sinkinson would pull off seven or eight turnovers in a single half. In Wales’ win over South Africa in 1999, he was arguably the best player on the pitch.

But it counted for nothing when Grannygate blew in.

After leaving Neath in 2004, Sinkinson returned to New Zealand, where he went on to work as a landscape gardener.

Shane Howarth

Shane Howarth would probably still swear blind he’s Welsh.

The problem was he couldn’t find a birth certificate to back it up.

He’d won 19 caps for his adopted country when Grannygate broke.

His eligibility for Wales had been based on his grandfather, Thomas Williams, being born in Cardiff. But, after this was called into question by reports claiming his maternal grandfather was someone else, it became obvious there was a problem.



Shane Howarth and his wife Marcella outside the supermarket they own in Mangere Bridge, Auckland

There was to be no way back for Howarth, who had previously won four caps for New Zealand, stopping him from even attaining a residency qualification with Wales.

He had actually been a firecracker of a full-back for the Wales side coached by Grand Henry, offering them an extra dimension with his pace, skill and ambition.

Being barred from playing for Wales hurt him like hell, and continues to do so.

“There were a lot of players involved in it (Grannygate), but, unfortunately — I guess because I was an All Black — I kind of got singled out,” he said.

“That’s the way it is and you cop that on the chin.

“But, to this day, I am Welsh.

“If I can’t get papers to prove that, then have a look at the 20 games I played in the red jersey and see if I wasn’t Welsh.”

Now in business in New Zealand, with his own supermarket in Auckland.


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Dave Hilton

Wales were not the only ones with questions to answer.

Bristol-born Hilton had played 41 games for Scotland when it was discovered he didn’t have the necessary qualifications to pull on the navy blue jersey.

The claim had been his grandfather had been born in Edinburgh.

But, once again, no-one could provide documentation to back it up.

That meant he couldn’t play for Scotland without a residency qualification.

“The day I was banned for playing for Scotland after five years in the team was one of the hardest of my life for me and my family,” he later said.
“The IRB ruled I was no longer eligible because we couldn’t trace anything from my grandfather’s birth certificate about where he was born — we still can’t in fact.”

Hitlon did resurface again at Test level, returning in 2002 after completing his residency period. He came off the bench for 15 minutes against South Africa and played his part in the first Scottish win over the Springboks in 33 years.

He went on to coach Moseley for four years.

When he finished there, he returned to playing action with Oxford at the age of 46.

Tyrone Maullin

The teak-hard South African had won three Wales A caps but was pulled from the Welsh second-string to face Scotland in 2000 amid doubts about his eligibility.

Wales had picked him on residency grounds, but he arrived in Swansea in the summer of 1997 and so hadn’t been in the country for 36 continuous months by the time of his selection.

He stayed with the All Whites until 2002, representing the club with distinction.

At the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand a familiar face could be seen watching Wales training.

It was Maullin.

“My time in Wales was the most enjoyable of my career,” he said.

“Swansea were an outstanding club to play for and the people there and in other parts of Wales were hugely welcoming.”

Again, there’s a case for believing the onus for checking all was OK didn’t rest exclusively with the player.

Matt Cardey



Matt Cardey playing for Wales against Scotland during the 2000 Six Nations
Matt Cardey playing for Wales against Scotland during the 2000 Six Nations

New Zealand-born Cardey had replaced Howarth after he’d been unable to prove his Welsh qualifications.

But before he could play the IRB wanted evidence that he could provide the necessary paperwork.

“It’s like anything. If you’re pulled over to do a breath test and you haven’t been drinking, you still think ‘oh jeez’,” he told Gist Vile last year.

“Any line of questioning where you know the truth, you still second guess yourself and think there’s a possibility. It’s one of those things.”

There was no need to fret.

The Welsh Rugby Union dispatched media chief Lynn Davies to the records office in Tredegar to obtain, at a cost of £6.50, the birth certificate of the Llanelli full-back’s grandmother, who hailed from Nantyglo.

Everything was in order, with the frizzy-haired full-back thus able to face Scotland that weekend.

“It was one of the best days of my life,” he later said.

But he was knocked out in a club game for Llanelli against Newport and so was denied a spot against Ireland next time out. That, as they say, was that for Cardey on the Test stage.

After spending time travelling with his girlfriend post-playing, Cardey returned to New Zealand to work in the building trade.

Peter Rogers

Questions were asked about the eligibility of the prop who had joined the Graham Henry revolution from South Africa, helping to transform the Welsh scrum alongside Garin Jenkins and Ben Evans.

But those enquiring needn’t have bothered.

Rogers’ Welsh-speaking dad Philip came from Trimsaran, with the family pitching up in Bryncethin when Peter was a toddler.

Nothing to see there.

Rogers junior was working as a carer last year.

Colin Charvis

He’d first played for Wales in 1996 while apparently ineligible, there seemingly being no evidence for the Welsh grandmother on which his credentials to pull on the red jersey had been based.

But by the time of Grannygate Charvis had completed his residency qualification.

Years later, research by CymruDNAWales suggested the great flanker was probably descended from one of Wales’ warrior leaders of some 1,500 years ago.

It’s not totally clear such evidence would have cut the mustard with the IRB.

But no action was ever taken against Charvis, who went on to captain Wales.

He still lives and works in Swansea.

Graham Henry

Wales’ coach at the time.

He’d picked Howarth and Sinkinson on grandparental grounds.

Others should have been on the case as well as the head coach.

But the affair was far from the high point of his time in Wales.

It became one more stick to beat him with as results deteriorated.

He left in 2002, worn out by the trials of the job.

It wasn’t the end for him as a coach, though.

He went on to coach the All Blacks, guiding them to victory in the World Cup final in 2011.

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