International eligibility: this week’s storm
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All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. (Image: AFP)
An international eligibility storm has been hammering away at the rugby world for the past seven days and this messy and thunderous front is beginning to take its toll on the credibility of the international game.
I can’t remember a week where different issues that involve these controversial eligibility rules have made their way into the headlines more consistently over a seven day period.
Allegations of ‘poaching’ along with a couple of interesting selections and player movements have got the gods that watch over the game they play in heaven talking.
This article and two articles to come will take a closer look at this violent storm cell, inspect the damage that it has left in its wake and then provide a plan to rebuild respectively.
It all kicked off last Saturday night when Steve Hansen made some (now infamous) comments about the Australian Rugby Union ‘pinching’ New Zealand rugby talent.
He went on to suggest in no uncertain terms that the Australian system is broken and the powers that be at ARU HQ should devote their ‘time and energy’ into developing their own rugby talent.
This came after one of Hansen’s fellow citizens kicked a swag of penalties, each of which he lined up while wearing a gold jersey, while those from his native land stood 10 metres away dressed head to toe in black (plus a bit of white scribble in the lower chest area).
Hansen’s parting shot suggesting that the ARU should ‘get its house in order’ was too spicy for outgoing CEO, John O’Neill not to glove up and get involved. O’Neill responded by referencing New Zealand’s own questionable history of selecting players born from outside their own borders, in particular those who have come from the Pacific Islands.
I’ll leave the eye of the storm there, as the Hansen comments and the Hansen versus O’Neill story that has developed has been well documented and discussed at length here on The Roar.
Since O’Neill bit back, tensions between the ARU and New Zealand Rugby Union had been left to simmer for the week. That was until the last day or so, when O’Neill’s New Zealand Rugby Union equivalent, Steve Tew, jumped to Hansen’s defence and stood firmly behind the coach’s controversial remarks.
While this particular storm has continued to rage on over the Tasman Sea, a number of other eligibility related storm fronts have developed around this Gilbert shaped globe of ours.
On Tuesday, news broke that 24 year old Crusaders wing Sean Maitland had signed with Scottish Pro12 side, the Glasgow Warriors. What made this more significant than the regular (and quite common) ‘kiwi player heading north’ story is that Maitland has Scottish grandparents and he intends to exercise the heritage laws to represent Scotland.
After representing the New Zealand under 19 and under 20 teams, four years as a key member of the Crusaders squad and six years in the Canterbury setup, Maitland is turning his back on New Zealand rugby in pursuit of international caps.
Throughout the week, numerous team squads were announced in preparation for the annual ritual of the south invading the north. Eyebrows were also sent north with the announcement of the Irish squad, which included yet another South African born and bred player who qualifies to represent a northern hemisphere nation on the grounds of residency.
26 year old and 2005 South Africa under 19 representative hooker, Richardt Strauss, comes into an Irish squad looking to add some depth to their hooking stocks, following the retirement of veteran Jerry Flannery.
Later in the week, England were due to name a replacement for injured prop (ironically American born), Alex Corbisiero. They went with the 21 year old, New Zealand born, man mountain Mako Vunipola. Vunipola is the son of Tongan international Fe’ao Vunipola and qualifies for England again on the grounds of residency.
Now it could be just coincidental, but I believe this selection led to the latest lightning bolts in the eligibility storm, which was yet another outburst by an international coach on the topic of ‘poaching’.
Fijian coach Inoke Male has labelled Australia, New Zealand and England as vultures. He is quoted as saying that scouts from all three countries have been present at Fiji’s annual secondary schools championships to look for talent to take to their own systems.
Male was particularly frustrated that he is being knocked back by young European based talent who had switched allegiances to their adopted homelands. He’s suggested that the money on offer by potentially aligning with one of the big fish is leading these boys to turn their backs on caps for Fiji for pounds, euros or dollars.
Male finished by pleading with the IRB to step in and do something about this farcical situation to ensure that countries like Fiji, Samoa and Tonga have a healthy list of professional rugby players to choose from, so these proud rugby nations can continue to present some sort of challenge to the top tier nations and not be wiped off the international rugby radar.
Although Hansen may have had some valid points, Male speaking out has made the All Blacks coach look like a complete sook who’s having a whinge about a Kiwi (who nobody wanted) single handedly scoring all of the points required to bring New Zealand’s potential record breaking string of wins to an end.
Male is speaking from a perspective where ‘poaching’ really is an issue. His outburst brings an extraordinary week in world rugby to end and hopefully his words will be ringing loudly in the ears of some administrators in Dublin to enforce some future changes.
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