Now the Lions squad has been announced, Jamie Wall calls for an immediate truce in any possible impending media battle over where players were born – and who they should play for
Good news for NZ rugby fans. If you’re from Wellington, Auckland and Tauranga, you can claim a bit of representation in the British & Irish Lions. Those decidedly non-UK cities in New Zealand will all be represented through Mako Vunipola, Ben Te’o, Jared Payne, who were all born in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Meanwhile, residents of Sydney, Australia, and George, South Africa, have Billy Vunipola and CJ Stander as their local representation when they stride onto the field in the scarlet red of the tourists.
This is nothing new. British rugby is littered with examples of players who aren’t originally from the countries they’re representing. In fact, the first official British Isles tour to New Zealand featured a New Zealander by birth. They used to come in from all over the old empire, and sometimes from outside as well – probably the most famous try in an English jersey was scored by a Russian prince.
Fast forward to now and you’ve even got a guy who played for and against the Lions in the space of just four years.
So why does the English media keep getting on New Zealand’s back about stealing players from the Pacific?
It is a pretty tired piece of rugby rhetoric that needs to be put to rest, along with bringing back rucking and French unpredictability. We get the need for your need to sell newspapers, but really, we don’t need this debate in our lives anymore – especially because the New Zealand media seem determined to jump on any mention of the subject like Richie McCaw onto the side of a ruck.
If it means that much, yes, we admit it. Even though the vast majority of Polynesians who live in New Zealand do so for employment or family reasons, there are a few who have been brought here specifically to play rugby. Some are pretty good too, and they’ve ended up in a black jersey.
So there, we’ll meet the Northern Hemisphere critics in the middle. All they have to do is admit they’ve been doing it for their entire history, as well, and we can both forget about it. After all, by that logic the Pacific Island sides have been ‘raiding’ New Zealand for talent for years as well. We’re all in the same boat.
Take Ben Te’o, for example. The new Lion has come via the Wests Tigers, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Brisbane Broncos, Queensland Origin and Toa Samoa teams. None of which are in England; none of which even play rugby union.
Then there’s Jared Payne, a guy who probably would’ve been an All Black if his career hadn’t overlapped with Ben Smith. He even played a major role in Ireland’s famous victory last year in Chicago over the team he might’ve played for. Did it rate a mention here? Not at all.
So come on England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We know you keep the door open at all times for any Johnny Foreigner whose packed his boots for his OE. Just, maybe, acknowledge where you got them from and maybe don’t be so nasty when someone who wasn’t born in New Zealand pulls on a black jersey.
Oh, except Dylan Hartley. You can claim rights to him as long for as you like.
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