Recently called up Worcester-bound Leinster centre Ben Te’o wanted to play for the Wallabies, in a country where he had spent ten years playing rugby league, it has been revealed.
Australia’s Daily Telegraph reports that Ben Te’o held talks with both Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika and Reds coach Matt O’Connor about bringing him in to the Australia Super Rugby set-up.
“He expressed an interest in coming back to Australia but the fact he hasn’t been here over the last two years meant he’d have to wait another three to play Test footy,” Queensland co-coach O’Connor said.
However, World Rugby residency rules mean that a player must have been playing in his chosen country for at least three consecutive years at the time of his selection. Despite playing in Australia since a 17-year-old and being selected for Australia’s national rugby league team, the Kangaroos, Te’o had not played in the country for two years because of his time in Ireland with Leinster.
Te’o’s father is a New Zealander and his mother is English, meaning Te’o could not qualify on parentage but instead through residency.
He would have had to spend another three years playing in Australia before he qualified, by which time he would already be 32 or 33 and possibly reaching the final days of his playing career.
However, although Te’o was close to becoming qualified for Ireland on residency, he has jumped at the chance to represent England, a country for which he has some familial connection. His big money move to Premiership side Worcester means not only does he benefit himself financially, but he now avoids the thorny issue of the RFU’s “exceptional circumstances” clause of their controversial selection policy regarding overseas-based players.
Te’o’s inclusion in the squad raised eyebrows amongst fans for two reasons: firstly, because Te’o is a league convert and a former Rabbitohs team-mate with Sam Burgess. Whilst Burgess was quickly fast-tracked into the England set-up, constantly surrounded by press coverage and shunted into a position he was not comfortable in, Te’o has been slowly learning his craft over in Ireland away from the media glare of the mildly ebullient British media.
Secondly, the selection Te’o has raised the issue of residency rules once again, an issue which new vice chairman of World Rugby, former Argentinian scrum-half Agustic Pichot has brought to the table once more. Although the Leinster centre qualifies through parentage, his apparent desire to play for Australia and then Ireland via residency, before jumping ship to England does bring into question World Rugby’s interpretation of nationality and the current laws that decide whether a player is eligible for a nation or not.
Now there is a chance that the half-English, half-New Zealander, former IRFU ‘project player’ Te’o will face the country he has spent half his career playing in and genuinely wanted to play for, after spending a prolonged period with Leinster.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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