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McNicholl responds to Halaholo's claim

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New Zealand-born Johnny McNicholl feels welcome in Wales squad amid Willis Halaholo hostility claims

By PA Authors
By Online Editors

Johnny McNicholl says Wales supporters have welcomed him after fellow New Zealander Willis Halaholo lashed out at the “doubters, haters and people that don’t think I belong here”.

Scarlets speedster McNicholl, who can operate at either wing or fullback, will make his Wales debut against the Barbarians in Cardiff on Saturday after qualifying through the three-year residency rule.

Halaholo was also in contention to debut in Wayne Pivac’s first game in charge before sustaining knee ligament damage playing for Cardiff Blues.

Halaholo took to Twitter after his injury to say: “All the doubters haters and people that don’t think I belong here u got your wish. U got 9months to get better especially the ones that think it’s ok for the other two Kiwi born to represent Wales but not me.”

That was a reference to McNicholl and Scarlets centre Hadleigh Parkes, who has won 25 caps since making his debut in 2017 and was a key part of Wales’ 2019 Grand Slam success and fourth-place finish at the recent World Cup.

Asked whether he had encountered any negative reaction on social media, McNicholl said: “I don’t use my Twitter account and no one has direct messaged me. So no negativity, no.

“I don’t listen to it because it’s only a small minority that are probably saying those things, and my advice would be to stay off social media.

“A few people I’ve seen in the street have said ‘congratulations and go well’. So it (the reaction) has been very good.”

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Former Wales boss Warren Gatland, who is back in Cardiff to coach the Barbarians, suggested that players who qualify on residency would benefit from learning the national anthem.

Gatland, himself a New Zealander, feels that singing the anthem before kick-off ingratiates players with the Welsh public.

“I have been going hard with the anthem,” said McNicholl, who played Super Rugby for the Crusaders before switching to the Scarlets in 2016.

“It is not a language that I know, so the pronunciation is very hard for me.

“But Steff Hughes (Scarlets teammate) has been very good in that department by writing it down how it is written in Welsh and then writing how I might say it in English.

“That way it is a bit easier to learn and I am really looking forward to trying to belt it out on Saturday.

“I almost know it off by heart and the last line is all I have to nail down now. I should be done by game day.”

McNicholl revealed it was his intention to play for Wales after moving from New Zealand, although he did not announce that publicly until his initial two-and-a-half-year Scarlets deal was extended.

He says he loves the country – “I’ve got one daughter born here, one on the way and it feels like home” – but at the age of 29 he knows time is not on his side.

“I don’t have that luxury of waiting a couple of years and building my way into the team,” McNicholl said.

“I’ve got to show what I’m worth straight away… scoring tries, making breaks, making other people look good, making myself look good.”

– Press Association

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New Zealand-born Johnny McNicholl feels welcome in Wales squad amid Willis Halaholo hostility claims