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FEATURE A question of nationality

A question of nationality
4 months ago

If you were being picky about it, this season’s Six Nations should technically be called the Seventeen Nations given how many countries have supplied players for it.

The squad passports register places of birth as exotic as Cameroon, Buenos Aires and Sydney.

The diaspora is a bone of contention for some – especially England supporters who dearly wish Duhan van der Merwe had never left South Africa. There will be more grumbles from the same quarter this weekend if James Lowe leaves a similar size-imprint for Ireland at Twickenham.

But, really, the diverse make-up of the championship is merely keeping step with the world around it.

Nationality is at the core of the Six Nations – it is what is written on the tin after all – but on a shrinking planet, who belongs where is an increasingly multi-layered business.

Globalisation is moving the pieces around the board like never before.

Look at the England squad. Marcus Smith was born in Manila, Ethan Roots Auckland and Sam Underhill Ohio; Manu Tuilagi spent the first 12 years of his life in Samoa.

Of the initial squads assembled for this Six Nations, 56 players were born outside the country that picked them. Twenty-five of those were from other Six Nations countries – the sort of border raids prompted by neighbourly genealogy that have always taken place – but more from further afield.

Bundee Aki
Bundee Aki grew up in South Auckland but has professed his love for Ireland in emotive terms (Photo by Tim Clayton/ Getty Images)

Far-flung additions to the championship are not an entirely new phenomenon. After scoring one the great Twickenham tries against New Zealand on his England debut, Prince Alexander Obolensky – son of what is now St Petersburg – played in the 1936 tournament.

Of blue-blooded Russian stock, he ended up in London as a refugee after his family fled following the Bolshevik revolution. He wasn’t even a naturalised British citizen when he went three-quarters of the length of the field to score against the All Blacks.

Obolensky was an interesting one-off but in more recent times the international rugby arrivals lounge has become ever more crowded.

Is this a bad thing? Some fear it dilutes an international side’s identity, especially in the case of residency-qualified players.

World Rugby was probably right to clamp down on the project player phenomenon when it increased the qualification period in 2022 from three years to five years but there is no need to go any further.

It is not as if Six Nations games are in danger of turning into New Zealand A v South Africa A.

Is nationality transferable? A supporter might instinctively think not. You want a particular nation to win the Six Nations and that’s it. You don’t change allegiances season by season. By a curse of geography or family indoctrination you have your side for life.

When you look at the Ireland side that is sweeping all before it with three adopted Kiwis at its core there is no sense of a wishy-washy green. Exactly the opposite, in fact.

The commitment to the cause of Lowe, Jamison Gibson-Park and Bundee Aki – none of whom have a drop of Irish blood in them – is unquestionable.

Is nationality transferable? A supporter might instinctively think not. You want a particular nation to win the Six Nations and that’s it. You don’t change allegiances season by season. By a curse of geography or family indoctrination you have your side for life.

But maybe it is more fluid than you might imagine. It was instructive listening to Chandler Cunningham-South at England’s training camp in York last week.

He was born in Sidcup so, you would surmise, he is playing for the correct country in England. But had things worked out in New Zealand in his teens he could well have been an All Black.

Chandler Cunningham-South
Chandler Cunningham-South speaks with a Kiwi twang but was born in Sidcup, a sign of a globalised world (Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images)

Having moved there with his family at four, all his rugby – and life – experiences up to the age of 18 were in New Zealand. His friends and teammates were all Kiwis. Even his accent was Kiwi.

If the All Blacks route opened up it would have made perfect sense for him. It was only because the Crusaders could not find a spot for him that he returned to England.

Sliding doors.

Playing rugby for one nation or another in this day and age is not the hard and fast choice some would want us to believe.

The call that has attracted the most column inches this season has been that of Manny Feyi-Waboso.

Cardiff–born, his declaration for England irritated Wales supporters but that is the nature of the beast with dual-qualified players.

For every Feyi-Waboso, who qualifies for England through his grandparents, there is a Nick Tompkins, who plays for Wales through the same pathway.

He had the choice and he chose England.

For every Feyi-Waboso, who qualifies for England through his grandparents, there is a Nick Tompkins, who plays for Wales through the same pathway.

Leicester wing Ollie Hassell-Collins spoke recently of the possibility of following suit one day – even though he played for England in last year’s championship.

The door is open after the 2021 law change which made it possible to represent more than one country.

This championship has provided examples of this in action.

Alec Hepburn, who was born in Australia, has turned out for Scotland having previously been capped by England.

Jack Dempsey
Born in Sydney, Jack Dempsey won 14 caps for Australia before he became eligible for Scotland through a maternal grandfather (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Again, this is a problem for some but why exactly? He qualifies – his father is a Glaswegian – so why not?

The same goes for his Scotland teammate and former Wallaby Jack Dempsey thanks to his grandfather.

It is of no benefit to rugby to lock good players out of top competitions.

Whether you like the idea of the Six Nations being multinational or not, it remains emphatically the Six Nations.

It is not as if there is some club-style transfer system in place which enables players to jump ship and follow the highest offer every summer. There is a three-year stand-down period in place before a player can pull on another country’s shirt – and it has to be one they qualify for through bloodline.

The modernisation of the regulations fits the reality of a changed environment. Little Englanders, Irelanders or Scotlanders take note – the world has moved on.

The fact is whether you like the idea of the Six Nations being multinational or not, it remains emphatically the Six Nations.

Tune in this weekend you will be left in no doubt that whatever the cast list, it remains an affair of the heart.

Comments

48 Comments
R
Rugby 126 days ago

Look at these proud nations trying their best to get a pathway for their young men. Warning NZ rugby (aka the Pacific Lions) are circling. Wonder how many the world will let them grab?

Recently Moana Pasifika and Oceania Rugby U20s held a Competition at North Harbour Stadium. Where Moana Pasifika, Tonga, Fiji and Samoa U20s teams play each other in Auckland.
I need to tell these men, they probably already know that their Greatest threat comes from New Zealand. It will impact on your planned pathway of player development.
The Pacific Lions are long time poaches of PI players. Please stop, NZ this group want their players to wear their own jersey not yours. Bet NZ scouts were in a frenzy.
General Manager of Oceania Rugby, Frank Puletua
CEO of Moana Pasifika, Pelenato Sakalia
Elite Pathways & Performance Manager of Fiji Rugby, Bill Gadolo
CEO of Lakapi Samoa, Vincent Fepuleai
CEO of Tonga Rugby Union, Aisea Aholelei
Moana Pathways Manager, Leasiosiofaasisina Kevin Senio

JUST look how proud these nations are, world should watch how many get cherry picked.
The Oceania Rugby U20s Challenge will serve as a viable competition pathway opportunity for age-grade players across the Pacific to advance into the elite professional environment of Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua.
In 2024, the competition will feature Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, alongside a Moana Pasifika invitational U20s team. The partnership vision is intended to include all other Pacific Unions with Under 19/20 age-grade programs, such as Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, and the French Polynesian territories in an inclusive approach to also provide these unions with an exciting pathway opportunity.
The new competition will also serve as a qualifier for Samoa and Tonga for the 2024 World Rugby U20s Trophy to be played in Scotland from 2-17 July. The winner between the two Pacific foes in round two will advance as Oceania’s representative to this key event.
Moana Pasifika, renowned for its commitment to promoting and celebrating Pacific culture, will proudly host the tournament at North Harbour in Auckland. The matches will take place on Tuesday, 27 February, with the second round starting on Saturday, 2 March, culminating with the final round on Wednesday, 6 March.
The competition not only highlights the immense talent and passion for rugby in the Oceania region but also provides a platform for young players to shine on an international stage. The Oceania Rugby Challenge aims to foster growth, development, and camaraderie among the participating nations while also promoting the sport of rugby in the region.
General Manager of Oceania Rugby, Frank Puletua said:
“This unique blend of athleticism, creativity, and cultural pride promises to showcase our region’s top rugby talent in a traditional hub for Pasifika communities”
CEO of Moana Pasifika, Pelenato Sakalia said:
“It’s an exciting opportunity for our youth. It is a privilege for us to serve our Pacific nations. This is an opportunity to accelerate our pathways programs. It’s also an opportunity to unify Moana Pasifika with community rugby and the home nations U20 programs. We’re focused on running a successful competition.”
Elite Pathways & Performance Manager of Fiji Rugby, Bill Gadolo said:
“The Fijian pathway focuses on developing our age-grade talent for the modern game, including travel exposure, adaptability, and short turnaround tournaments. We welcome Oceania Rugby and Moana Pasifika for taking the initiative to engage Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and Moana Pasifika. The team’s success against the three teams in Auckland is a measure of their readiness for the Aotearoa Super Competition U20s competition and, importantly, the World Rugby U20s Championship. The preparation began in December last year, and the squad was selected in early January. The Fijian Drua’s inclusion and the Fiji Under 20s’ spot in the World Rugby U20s Championship have attracted many players of Fijian descent worldwide.”
CEO of Lakapi Samoa, Vincent Fepuleai said:
“The Oceania Rugby U20s Challenge is a great initiative, and I would like to acknowledge Oceania Rugby and Moana Pasifika for making this happen. It offers young players in our development program both competition and a pathway to a contract with Moana Pasifika. This is a crucial step in nurturing our local talent, and we are really excited about these opportunities. Our HP Coaches have organised trials, with over a hundred local players participating, and we are excited about the selected talent to lead Samoan rugby into the future.”
CEO of Tonga Rugby Union, Aisea Aholelei said:
“Tonga Rugby Union is ecstatic that teams like Fiji, Samoa, and Moana Pasifika will be participating in this competition. This tournament solidifies our player pathways and motivates our local talent to don the Junior Ikale Tahi jersey. Knowing that they’ll be playing against the best in the Pacific and gaining vital international experience to improve their game. The players performances will indicate our development program international standing, highlighting the requirements to qualify for the top nations and tournaments. Our main objective is to identify the best development systems to help our talents reach their full potential, and this tournament will greatly benefit our future growth plans and programs.”
Moana Pathways Manager, Leasiosiofaasisina Kevin Senio said:
“This will be a massive boost for the future of rugby. This is about creating a genuine pathway and providing the stage for our up-and-coming Pasifika talent to be seen.”

R
Rugby 127 days ago

I can not find the source, I will and add later. It is evidence based, fact not made up.
BUT of all the tier one nations the country with the most players is……
…….
England.

I was surprised by that others are NZ, SA, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga etc.

Thinking about it England probably have the most playing numbers in the world so it makes sense.

But SA the Bokke are 100% their own team.
where as NZ is the Pacific Lions (10-20% at times other non NZ born PI players) - Not fair.

R
Rugby 133 days ago

maybe Raiwalui World Rugby High Performance Pathways and Player Development Manager can stop this BS from the Pacific Lions,
poaching from FijiBula

R
Rolando 134 days ago

Interesting piece. However, I believe fans are perfectly entitled to feel confusion and frustration at the current state of international eligibility laws. Obviously nationality and identity are not static and can change over time (Finlay Christie was born in Scotland and moved to NZ when he was 7. He’s both a Scot and a Kiwi and is totally entitled to it). The problem arises when the rules are made up in a way that favor some countries over others in a very obvious way. Let me explain.

You can play for a country if you are born there or have lived most of your life there (ie went to school there). That’s obvious. You can also play for one of your parent’s birthplaces, which seems fine to me as the connection is evident. The grandparent rule is where it all gets murky, as it really helps players who are born in a country with lots of historic immigration from countries that play rugby, such as NZ, AUS and SA players with British or Irish forebears. Then there’s the residency rule, which motivates lots of players to move to a different country with a professional competition with an eye in qualifying for their national team. Think Aki, Lowe, Gibson-Park, Halaholo, McNicholl, Flutey, etc, or the complete Japan roster who at the last RWC had 50% of players born abroad and 1/3 of the players raised elsewhere. Then you also have players who are attracted through scholarships to go to school and qualify, a tactic NZ uses with gusto (think Taukeiaho, Reece, Fekitoa, Naholo, etc).

Why does this matter? Because it skews professional rugby. Take for example the case of Chile, who qualified for their first World Cup ever with a squad assembled from Selknam, the semi pro outfit that was built with the best amateur players in the local competition, all of them born or raised in the country. And they have to play Samoa, a team where only 15% of the squad were home grown (most of them were born and raised in NZ or AUS), even having former All Blacks and Wallabies in Luatua, Lealiifano, and Sopoaga. How is this fair? How does this help rugby grow in other countries and markets?

I’m all for multiculturalism and free migration around the world. Maro Itoje’s parents are Nigerian but he was born and raised in England, he’s as English as complaining about the weather. But the moment you see three born and raised kiwis playing for Ireland, or 4 born and raised South Africans starting for Scotland, I don’t think it is crazy to complain about where international rugby is going.

R
Rugby 134 days ago

Only South Africa and Argentina were 100% home grown talent.

Many players move to live somewhere else. That is good no problem.

It is the AB's (the Pacific Lions) with their world class rugby system that poach PI players that is the example that stinks the most. Sure Italy and Scotland are rebuilding.

BUT it begs the question - If you are the best in the world, with a load of money - for 10 year in a row, why do you have to poach key players (fijian wingers, tongan hitmen flankers and samoa flank, mid field or front row)? Stop it.

Scotland (15)
WP Nel (South Africa), Pierre Schoeman (South Africa), Javan Sebastian (England), Ewan Ashman (Canada), Sam Skinner (England), Jack Dempsey (Australia), Hamish Watson (England), Ali Price (England), Ben White (England), Ben Healy (Ireland), Chris Harris (England), Cameron Redpath (France), Sione Tuipulotu (Australia), Kyle Steyn (South Africa), Duhan van der Merwe (South Africa).

Italy (11)
Ivan Nemer (Argentina), Hame Faiva (New Zealand), Dino Lamb (England), David Sisi (Germany), Toa Halafihi (New Zealand), Sebastian Negri (Zimbabwe), Martin Page-Relo (France), Juan Ignacio Brex (Argentina), Ange Capuozzo (France), Monty Ioane (Australia), Paolo Odogwu (England),

Wales (10)
Taulupe Faletau (Tonga), Tomas Francis (England), Dan Lydiate (England), Will Rowlands (England), Henry Thomas (England), Christ Tshiunza (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Gareth Anscombe (New Zealand), George North (England), Nick Tompkins (England), Johnny Williams (England),
New Zealand - the Pacific Lions(9)
Samisoni Taukei'aho (Tonga), Tyrel Lomax (Australia), Nepo Laulala (Samoa), Ofa Tu'ungafasi (Tonga), Shannon Frizell (Tonga), Finlay Christie (Scotland), Emoni Narawa (Fiji), Leicester Fainga'anuku (Tonga), Ethan de Groot (Australia)

Ireland (8)
Finlay Bealham (Australia), Rob Herring (South Africa), Jeremy Loughman (USA), Joe McCarthy (USA), Bundee Aki (New Zealand), Jamison Gibson-Park (New Zealand), Mack Hansen (Australia), James Lowe (New Zealand)

Australia (7)
Taniela Tupou (Tonga), Jordan Uelese (New Zealand), Will Skelton (New Zealand), Lalakai Foketi (New Zealand), Samu Kerevi (Fiji), Marika Koroibete (Fiji), Suliasi Vunivalu (Fiji)

France (5)
Uini Atonio (New Zealand), Sipili Falatea (Futuna), Peato Mauvaka (New Caledonia), Paul Willemse (South Africa), Yoram Moefana (Futuna)

England (4)
Billy Vunipola (Australia), Manu Tuilagi (Samoa), Marcus Smith (Philippines), David Ribbans (South Africa)

South Africa (0)

Argentina (0)
SOURCE
Rugby World Cup: The team with the most players born overseas revealed
Robert van Royen
September 17, 2023
www . stuff . co . nz / sport / rugby-world-cup-2023 / 300948334 / rugby-world-cup-the-team-with-the-most-players-born-overseas-revealed

M
Mzilikazi 135 days ago

Thanks for the article, Neil. A topic that always brings polar opposites out of the woods ! I believe the three year qualification is enough, and if it were put to a vote for rugby people worldwide, ….which ofc will never happen….it would interesting to see how the result would fall.

I often think those that get hot under the collar over New Zealanders/Boks/Fijians et al playing for another nation are forgetting these men are professionals, playing rugby is their living as young men. It is therefore, in my view, their right to chose who they play for. One could pick any one of CJ Stander, Bundi Aki, JGP, Paul Willemse, and on and on, and ask if they had not moved overseas, would they have made their land of birth national teams. I suspect the answer in many cases would be no, they would not.

Duhan van der Merwe is a good example to look at in this respect. I would judge he still would not make a Bok starting 23 for a crucial game. And that despite his high standing with Scotland. And in his case we, the vast body of rugby “types” of all hues, would be denied seeing a very good, probably even great, rugby player perform at the highest level.

f
finn 135 days ago

Frankly I’m much happier about players qualifying through residency than through blood. People who are raised in England are English. People who aren’t are not. Nationality isn’t genetic.

The idea that having a grandparent from somewhere means that you are also from there is a symptom of the kind of idiot identitarianism that used to only hold sway in mainland europe and in settler colonies, but is sadly becoming all the more common in proper countries as well.

J
Jon 136 days ago

This author still doesn’t really get it.

CCS is still a Kiwi, his mates still are Kiwi’s and, I assume, he still talks like a Kiwi, and he can still be an All Black if he thinks he’s good enough. All perspectives the author is still getting wrong. Who can blame him though, he has probably had decades being like everyone else and critizing players for playing for a country they don’t think they should have. The same lack of understanding, of perspective, is still there, now we can just hear an acceptance of it from this guy.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t appear to be examples like these, but those of DvdM, Antonio, and James Lowe (I don’t count JGP and Aki as there probably weren’t considered International quality at the time?) that I am seeing a shift in perspectives from. In any case, it is indeed jumping between club level where this change has been driven and also essentially resolved (stopped) by WRs change in eligibility.

So to sum things up, the 6N will indeed be cleaned up as these players phase out, and supporters that are disillusioned with the status quo will be able to return to some sort of respectability. While the International game will hopefully have that authenticity again there will still be a need to understand a player like Feyi-Waboso wanting to represent both Wales and England, and that if he makes that switch back to Wales, that it is done out of desire rather than not being good enough for England anymore.

The rugby world needs to open up to those circumstances as well as continue to find equality that reduces the occurances of players choosing their national representation based on factors like money.

P
PDV 136 days ago

I suppose for players who switch countries it’s a question of dreams vs reality. Without a doubt the likes of Duhan van der Merwe and James Lowe grew up dreaming of playing for the Boks and the All Blacks respectively. When it became clear that wouldn’t happen they looked elsewhere to play international rugby. Not sure wearing another country’s colours means as much to them as their first choice would have, but can’t blame them for the move.

B
Bull Shark 136 days ago

Indeed. It’s an outcome of globalization. Very fair point.

But it’s also, surely, an outcome of the “adoptive” countries not producing “enough” players. Particularly countries with small player populations. And having the cash and value proposition to attract foreign players. Willing buyer. Willing seller.

I for one think the eligibility rules should be 5 years and/or linked to the player gaining genuine citizenship. Not just residency.

And I think that countries like SA, New Zealand (in particular) should do a better job of picking players before they apply themselves to their new found homes. Unless they’re not good enough. Of course.

SA did that successfully with players like Evan Roos (France) and Feinberg-Mngomezulu (England) to prevent them from leaving the Bok cause. New Zealand should be considering the same approach because they’re ripe for being raided in the future.

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