Let the Boys Play

Posted: May 4, 2015 in World Cup
Tags: , , ,

A fear that has always resonated with players is that moving abroad would remove them from international contention. They feared that the coach would not see them play, would not travel to their games, or would simply choose to trust who they saw play week in week out at home. But, for a lot of players who are in-form and playing well, location was never a factor.

For example, overseas Irish players have long been welcomed into the national set-up. Tommy Bowe (Ospreys), Eoin Reddan (Wasps), Keith Wood (Harlequins), Simon Easterby (Scarletts) and Johnny O’Connor (Wasps) all earned international caps while plying their trade abroad, just to name a few. For the last few years, Ireland’s and, arguably, Europe’s leading flyhalf played with Racing Metro. The fact Sexton’s club was based in France never cost Schmidt a thought.

Recently, Australia have brought in a change to their eligibility laws which will allow certain overseas players to represent the Australian national team. The change states that “effective immediately, overseas-based players will now be eligible for Qantas Wallabies selection if they have played more than 60 Tests for Australia and have held a professional contract with Australian Rugby for at least seven years” (taken from rugby.com.au).

Basically, this means the likes of Drew Mitchell and Matt Giteau will more than likely represent their country in September. It also means Adam Ashley-Cooper will be able to represent Australia after his move at the end of the season (obviously as long as he stays in form). Additionally, their fellow internationals are free to pursue more lucrative contracts and still wear the Wallaby crest (as long as they fulfill the necessary criteria).

You also just need to look at how many caps Pienaar has earned for the Springboks while playing with Ulster. It would seem that the player is more important than his club location.

But as it stands, an English clubmate of Giteau and Mitchell is in doubt of selection for this year’s World Cup because he is based in France.

Steffon Armitage is the starting openside flanker for Europe’s leading  club side. He was awarded the Heineken Cup Player of the Tournament for last year’s competition and is in contention for the same award this year. He has been magnificent since (and before) signing with the three-time European champions but Stuart Lancaster cannot select him because of where he plays his rugby.

Going into a World Cup, you want not only the best starting XV possible, but also the best squad. If it were my decision, as Robshaw is captain, Armitage would simply start blindside. He would be just as effective and efficient, and would add ball-carrying and ground-work to the English pack. He is a better poacher than Haskell, and I think a smarter player.

England need to look at this rule of selecting home-based players and ask themselves is it benefitting them internationally in the long run. Armitage’s rugby curriculum vitae now speaks for itself. He would be nothing but a benefit for a World Cup squad. Although “Slamming” Sam Burgess has put in a few stints in the Bath engine room, it would be reckless to include him ahead of Armitage in terms of the pack, even at Saxons’ level.

Reviewing this selection issue would also bring other internationals out of the wilderness, most noticeably Nick Abendonen. Although he made a try-awarding mistake at the end of the first half on Saturday, he enjoyed a good run of form this season for Clermont in the Top 14 and European campaign. In my opinion he is England’s second best 15 behind Mike Brown. Arguments could be made for Delon Armitage, but given his character and previous behaviour, I don’t think Lancaster would opt for him.

Put simply, these players’ international careers should not be punished for playing the best rugby of their careers outside of the Premiership.

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