Interesting selections for year-end tours
There have been some intriguing selections/non-selections in the South African, New Zealand and Australian teams for the end of year tours, given recent discussions about disciplinary matters, player poaching, changing nationalities and so on.
The All Black squad of 32 for a tour taking in Scotland, Italy, Wales and England features just two new faces in hooker Dane Coles and halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Kerr-Barlow's selection has been leapt on by the Aussie media, given that it comes just ten days after Steve Hansen gave them a jumbo sized wind-up by suggesting they should stop poaching players from New Zealand and develop their own….cue howls of indignation and outrage.
Kerr-Barlow, as his Christian name suggests, is “part” Maori (Maori don’t generally use that expression…you have Maori blood in you, you’re Maori). He was born in Australia to an Aussie Mum and a Kiwi Dad. He came to New Zealand when he was 13. He attended secondary school in Hamilton, played for the New Zealand under- 20s, Waikato and then the Chiefs. It was only a matter of time before he became an All Black, something he says he wanted to do since he was three years old.
That hasn’t stopped the Australian media claiming him as one of theirs, and accusing Hansen in particular and New Zealanders in general of hypocrisy.
I guess the bottom line is the guy, like everyone else, had a choice, and he’s made it pretty clear what that always was.
Some would deny such a person the right to choose by insisting players should only play for their country of birth, but that is surely far too simplistic, and far too restrictive.
If that was the case exciting new Springbok winger Raymond Rhule would have to play for Ghana, Beast Mtawarira would be playing for Zimbabwe, Jerome Kaino's career would have been with American Samoa and John McEnroe would have played Davis Cup for Germany.
Right now the laws prevent a player who’s played test rugby from switching countries, something that was initiated back in the mid-90s after some New Zealand-born Samoan internationals like Frank Bunce, Pat Lam and Ofisa Tonu’u changed allegiance “back” to New Zealand.
Those who have not played for the national side can switch, but require a three-year period of residency, or have a grand-parental connection to the country they’re changing to.
We will see plenty of evidence of that in November, when England in particular is likely to continue selecting from a pool of Kiw, Saffa and increasingly, Pacific Island born players, most of whom moved to the UK for no other reason than to play professional rugby.
The New Zealand Rugby Union has in the past actually pushed hard for players to be able to switch from tier one countries, to lower tier nations but not the other way around…so that, for example Jerry Collins, who was born in Samoa but lived nearly all of his life and played all his rugby in New Zealand, could, after quitting the All Blacks, become available for Samoa.
I know a lot of Kiwi/PI players who would have jumped at that but the IRB vetoed it. It is suspected that this was the work of some of the smaller traditional nations in the Northern Hemisphere who do not want the Pacific Nations getting too strong, while others clearly refused to believe that New Zealand would not somehow be the ultimate beneficiaries of it all.
Should something be done to stop the nation hopping? Could anything be done?
They could start by scrapping the grandparent thing…it is nonsense.
It’s also been suggested that as well as a three-year residency, players should be required to have a passport of their new country…mind you Zola Budd got one of those pretty quickly did she not?
There’s no obvious answer. Some might even think it’s not actually a problem.
Finally, a couple of other observations about the teams for the “autumn” tours.
Scott Higginbotham gets his just deserts by missing selection for the Wallaby tour, because in the opinion of Robbie Deans his two-game suspension took him out of too much of the action. It’s justice in a way, but it still doesn’t justify the lenient punishment, or the ridiculous explanation that accompanied it.
And I note that Heyneke Meyer has included three overseas players in his team.
In New Zealand there is a hard and fast rule, one that is never likely to change, that anyone wanting to play for the All Blacks has to play in New Zealand. The NZRU feels it has to protect the integrity of Super Rugby and our ITM Cup, and were it to relax the stance the steady trickle of players heading overseas would become a torrent.
It’s also a belief here that the pace of rugby in Europe would not be conducive to the way the All Blacks play.
It seems to be different in South Africa, it seems to work OK, although you may have differing thoughts on this.
Certainly the way Francois Louw played this winter suggested his game had not exactly suffered for playing in England, although I do recall Frans Steyn appearing as if he’d eaten most of the goats cheese in France when he first came back!
And Meyer has also been prepared to introduce a bunch of new players, whereas the ABs have only two.
I guess having already given eight new boys a jersey this year Hansen appears satisfied with his transformation process for now.