Sale Sharks’ rugby league convert Denny Solomona has lit up the Aviva Premiership with pace, power and guile that has won him many admirers in the union world. Yet the winger’s recent announcement of his intention to play for England is deeply problematic.
Born in New Zealand, the Auckland powerhouse quickly made an impact at London Broncos and Castleford Tigers, signing for the former at the age of just 20. In 61 appearances he scored an impressive 67 tries and so one can only imagine the delight on Steve Diamond’s face when the player officially signed for the Sharks back in December.
Since that time Solomona’s impact has been phenomenal – he has made just 11 appearances for Sale but scored as many tries. Inevitably, rumours began to spread that the player was eyeing up a potential international career after his code switch.
On 29th March, at the nearest opportunity having completed the necessary three year residency period as required under World Rugby regulations, the winger declared his eligibility for England.
This comes at a time when RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie has spoken of the need for change to the aforementioned rules, with the possibility of Twickenham introducing a self-imposed five year residency period to qualify to play for the men in white.
Yet talk of this change has seemingly gone quiet since Solomona announced his intention to wear the white jersey.
For the pragmatist, there is no issue here. The rules are the same for all nations and Solomona has of course abided by those rules. The player himself has also made it clear that he feels English (via The Telegraph):
“I’ve bought a house here, I’m engaged to marry an English girl, I’m well and truly inside the English culture now. I’ve been here three years and that’s the choice I want to make.”
Solomona is a fantastic talent and the possibility of him making the Lions tour is not as outlandish as it might first appear. Yet it is hardly as if England lack talent out on the wing: Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell, Elliot Daly, Jonny May, Semesa Rokoduguni and Marland Yarde are just some of the players available to coach Eddie Jones. That’s ignoring the likes of superb club players like Christian Wade and James Short.
Rugby does need to move on from its current eligibility rules. Yes, extending the residency period from three to five years might prevent the development of ‘project players’ to some degree, but there needs to be more flexibility than a universal regulation.
Tier one nations have significantly greater player pools than most of their tier two counterparts. The player resources available to the likes of France and England dwarf the rest of the rugby world. Extending the residency period could cause significant damage to the likes of Samoa, Tonga and Fiji when they increasingly rely on Australasian-born talent due to the forces of economic migration.
Ian Ritchie’s previous stance on the issue was noble of him and tier one nations need stricter guidelines on who can and cannot play for their elite national teams. But if Solomona goes on to represent England in the near future then it is going to go against everything Ritchie has previously stated.
A five-year residency period for tier one nations is not ideal, but it is better than the current system. At the age of just 23 time is on Solomona’s side. If he genuinely feels passionate about playing for his adopted country then he would wait.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
Read More About: British and Irish lions, british lions, castleford tigers, denny solomona, eddie jones, eddie jones news, england rugby, england rugby news, Ian Ritchie, london broncos, rfu, sale sharks