On the 15th March 2014, with all going to plan, Brian O’Driscoll will run out for Ireland at Stade de France for the last time. At the conclusion of this game Joe Schmidt will have to fill the massive void that this land’s most iconic sportsman will leave. There have been a number of candidates suggested; Robbie Henshaw, Keith Earls, Darren Cave and Luke Fitzgerald. However, the favourite to wear the number 13 shirt is Ulster’s Kiwi Jared Payne, which poses a complex problem according to Matt Cassidy.
Payne is a wonderful footballer who thrills the Ravenhill crowds when he glides through an open space or when he uses his silky skills to bamboozle opposing defences. Ability wise he is the perfect replacement for O’ Driscoll. But there is just one problem. Jared Payne is a New Zealander.
The IRB eligibility laws state that “a player may only play for the senior fifteen-a-side National Representative Team of the Union of the country in which;
a) he was born; or
b) one parent or grandparent was born; or
c) he has completed thirty six consecutive months of Residence immediately preceding the time of playing.”
There is nothing wrong with Payne playing for Ireland next year as he qualifies to represent Ireland through statement c. However, should a player be allowed to qualify to represent a national team when he is unable to apply for citizenship or a passport of that country?
An example of this is former flanker Hendre Fourie. South African, Fourie, who was capped eight times for England, was threatened with deportation after injury forced him to retire, as he was in England on a work visa. This was made all the worse as he picked up the career ending injury playing for England. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and Fourie was allowed to stay. But the question remains; if he was not considered “English” enough by the government to stay in the country how could the IRB consider him “English” enough to represent the national team?
The big problem with this short residency rule is that the richer countries in world rugby are able to poach young players from developing countries, naturalise them and play them for their national teams. France has academies in the South Pacific; New Zealand and Australia have been stealing Islander players for years and even Ireland have the special project programme. How are smaller nations supposed to improve and develop if their best youth players are being dangled the huge carrot of money to leave their homeland and represent another country? This creates a mercenary mentality. Riki Flutey could be regarded as an example of this as he went back to New Zealand after a few years playing a charade as an Englishman.
Perhaps this viewpoint is too cynical. After all, if a player is willing to play three years of his career for an Irish province, adopt the Irish culture and then wishes to represent the national team should he not be permitted to do so? Does Richardt Strauss, Ireland’s South African born hooker, who learned the words to Amhrán na bhFiann before his debut, have less right to play for the national team than Michael Bent, a New Zealand prop forward who was parachuted into the Irish squad in 2012 as he has Irish grandparents, even though he had never set foot on the island?
Personally, I believe that the IRB should extend the residency rule to five years as a foreign player would then have the right to apply for citizenship and therefore would be able to say “I am Irish” as opposed to “I am a representative of the Irish rugby team.”. But what it comes down to is who does the ordinary fan feel most comfortable supporting. Would you rather support an Ireland team with 15 Irish men born and bred of this island? Or are you satisfied watching a team packed full of foreign mercenaries ready to move to France or Japan when the next client wishes to make avail of their services?
The IRB rules allow Jared Payne to pull on Irish sports’ most famous jersey next autumn. I will be cheering him on to victory along with the rest of the boys in green. But it does not necessarily mean I agree that he should be there.
Pundit Arena, Matt Cassidy.