New Zealand Herald columnist Gregor Paul has criticised Warren Gatland’s inclusion of Kiwi-born players Jared Payne and Ben Te’o in his Lions squad to face the All Blacks.
The players in question, representing Ireland and England respectively, would at one point have thought that they might end up on the opposite side of this match-up but the duo will instead will be wearing red, rather than black, down under this summer.
Paul, however, has said that including these players, as well as South African-born flanker CJ Stander, is “hard to take”:
“The debate isn’t about whether Jared Payne, Ben Te’o and CJ Stander are good enough to be Lions.
“The question is deeper, more fundamental, which is how on earth do they end up playing for the Lions when all three of them, or certainly Payne and Stander, no doubt grew up dreaming about playing against them?”
He singled out Payne as a case in point for why residency rules are a major issue. The 31=year-old represented New Zealand at under-21 level over a decade ago and Paul believes that the back could have been knocking on the door for All Blacks selection had he not shunned the opportunity by joining Ulster in 2011.
He made his Ireland debut in 2014, but the writer argues that Ulster’s financial package (aided by the IRFU) turned his head and closed the door to his chances of becoming a senior New Zealand international.
“Take Payne as the example. He was pushing towards the edge of All Blacks’ selection in 2010 and 2011.
“He’d consistently impressed at both the Crusaders and Blues, either at wing, fullback or centre and he was probably only a couple of injuries away from making the World Cup squad.
“No one is suggesting he was going to be a regular All Black, but the point is he was targeting that as his goal, right up until Ulster came calling with a swag of cash that saw him head to Ireland.
“The story to this point has no twists – until it is realised that Ulster were supported financially by the Irish Rugby Union in making the payment because the latter could see that Payne would have served his required residency period at about the same time they expected the great Brian O’Driscoll to retire.
“They bought a New Zealander to fill a national jersey and while that is their business to square away with those domestic players trying to make it through the development pathways, it becomes a bigger problem when Payne and others who have converted as so-called project players, make the British and Irish Lions.
“It’s one thing for Irish players to miss out on playing for Ireland because of an import, but is it fair that say, Scots, Welsh and English players should miss out on winning a place with the Lions for that same reason?”
Paul is not the only journalist to have a major grievance with the inclusion of nationalised players being brought on the tour. Irish writer Ewan MacKenna also took issue with the fact that there are more Southern hemisphere-born players than Scots in the 41-man panel:
I see it’s now British, Irish, New Zealand and South African Lions. Sign of state of French rugby they’ve none. https://t.co/T84gCainWR
— Ewan MacKenna (@EwanMacKenna) April 19, 2017
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