Are the Wallabies becoming too much like the Kiwis?
Wallabies wing James O'Connor is tackled during the IRB Rugby World Cup Semi-Final between Australia and New Zealand at Eden Park, Auckland, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011. The All Blacks defeated the Wallabies 20-6. (AAP Image/AFP, William West)
Is the Australian national team embracing too many New Zealand players? Mike Harris is likely to join the green and gold for the upcoming Rugby Championship and Toby Lynn is also touted as a future Wallaby.
Non-Australians or players born and raised in other countries playing for the Wallabies are hardly new. Australia, like every other country, commonly has players starring for its national team that were neither born, raised, nor developed here.
Tiaan Strauss, Dan Vickerman and Clyde Rathbone are South Africans who have worn the green and gold in recent times.
Patricio Noriega was an Argentine who propped up the Wallaby scrum for years while others such as George Gregan, Lote Tuqiri and Jeremy Paul were all born in other countries but moved to Australia and starred for the Wallabies.
There is, however, a big difference between those who move to Australia at a young age to live the rest of their life here, always considering themselves Australian, and those who arrive Down Under at 18 years or older.
There are those who have come through the Australian development system, through the GPS or Australian Schoolboys or an Australian academy, and there are those who are developed elsewhere but end up using their skills for us.
As New Zealand is our closest neighbour and rugby is by far their most popular sport, there have always been a healthy number of Kiwis playing in all levels of Australian rugby.
From subbies to club rugby, Super Rugby, the Wallabies and beyond, it’s commonplace to find New Zealanders in our ranks, which is mostly a good thing. It can increase the talent pool here and expand our rugby knowledge.
Considering the close relationship between the two countries, the number of Kiwis who live in Australia (estimated to be around half a million) and the economic opportunities available in Australia, this is all to be expected.
New Zealand has produced players for years that play for other countries – like Japan, Italy and England – and Australia is no different. Australians like Luke McLean, Dan and Nathan Parks, and Adam Byrnes have all played internationally for other countries.
But is there a line, and when it comes to the Wallabies, have we crossed it?
I am not at all advocating against Kiwis playing rugby in Australia, and I am not denigrating the positive impact New Zealanders have had on the sport in this country. I am merely posing the question, should the Wallabies have a different standard?
International rugby union has long had dubious representative eligibility laws, in my opinion, which should be tightened to be more in line with sports bodies such as football’s FIFA.
Is there, or should there be, a rule in place that promotes Australian talent to go on and play for the Wallabies? Or is it a case of wanting success at all costs?
At the moment we have a Kiwi coach in Robbie Deans (a fantastic coach in my opinion), a Kiwi fly-half in Quade Cooper, and Kiwi props in Sekope Kepu and Pek Cowan. Kiwis Harris and Lynn are currently on the fringe of Wallaby selection, while in recent years so has Brackin Karauria-Henry.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is currently a signing target for the New South Wales Waratahs, and would seemingly have to be eligible for the Wallabies.
James O’Connor is an interesting case – he was born on the Queensland south-east coast to New Zealand parents, and as a child he lived in Auckland for five years before he and his family moved back to Australia. Then there is Digby Ioane, born in Wellington but moved to Australia when he was five years old.
We also have David Pocock, who emigrated from Zimbabwe to Australia at the age of 14, the Fijian Radike Samo and the Papua New Guinean Will Genia (his brother plays for Papau New Guinea).
With the impact of globalisation and cheap air travel, this trend will, if anything, only become greater.
I am not seeking to institute an Australians-only for Australia policy, or one of shutting our borders to all boats and planes. This is not meant as a racist rant or a xenophobic diatribe. The multiculturalism and embracing of all cultures here is one of Australia’s finest gifts.
It is merely a question around the development systems currently in place in Australian rugby – should we be focusing on developing more Australian-born and raised players?
Do we care if a large section of the Wallabies hails from New Zealand or were developed in the Land of the Long White Cloud?
At what cost comes success for our national team?
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