When I was much younger I remember being excited by watching the Scotland team play with its ‘exotic’ stars. I knew very little about the politics or any assumed insult to purists. All I knew was that the ‘Kilted Kiwis’ had a cool nickname and they all seemed to be that little bit sui generis.
Nowadays, as I have ‘matured’, I have come to realise that the influx of foreigners like ‘Chainsaw’ Laney, Cammy Mather, Glenn Metcalfe, the Leslie brothers, Shaun Longstaff and Sean Lineen is a symptom of our system. We struggled to supply adequate players in the early years of professionalism and so had to look South for inspiration, be it from England or the other hemisphere.
Things may have changed recently, if only a little bit.
Sevens coach Graham Shiel intimated to me that he at least still kept a lookout for foreign players eligible to play for Scotland [Sevens, at least]. In our pro ranks we have Scots qualified Englishmen in Tom Ryder, Peter Murchie (both Glasgow) and Jack Gilding (Edinburgh).
Glasgow also have Tommy Seymour, the former Ulster wing, who despite having lived in the USA, Dubai and N. Ireland still manages to be Scots qualified. Edinburgh have Roddy Grant and soon-to-be full-cap David Denton who was born and raised in Zimbabwe.
However, as a mixed-up Meatloaf might say, 6 outta 74 ain’t bad.
In the Scotland squad itself only Denton and Hines could be said to be Scottish ‘foreigners’, with both qualifying through relatives, whilst Danielli and Cuthbert played some junior or rep rugby for Scottish sides as English-born players.
So there is not that much to be up in arms about. We have limited resources and we aren’t being excessive. We aren’t desperate either, although we do have our thumb in the dyke waiting for Mr. Visser to qualify.
It feels weird to say this, but we have a certain level of depth in the Scotland squad (barring our front row, second row and fly-half spots) and don’t seem to be scouring the globe for answers. Everything has fallen into place, somehow.
This leads us to the English inversion of a similar situation. Of course by similar I mean “they have a national team”, because the resources available over the border make us look like paupers. No, for England their situation is unique purely because the rest of the World cannot compete with the sheer numbers of players England can pick from.
It must be said that circumstance, though, has led to England’s current state. They haven’t gone looking for guys. They haven’t cast out their net. The Xenophobes have been muzzled because they all have visas, most have residency and the IRB are satisfied. They are all picked from within England.
Sure people are shocked that only 8 of England’s starting team against Wales this weekend are English born. It is certainly more shocking than Twickenham’s desperate marketing ploy of selling over-priced ‘All Black’ jerseys. It is, however, the shamelessness that angers people more than the act itself.
Martin Johnson is brusque. He is single-minded. He doesn’t care what the team wear, how they do their hair or how they play. Accents? Bugger them. Johnson has a remit to triumph, regardless of how.
I genuinely believe that as passionate about the Rose as Johnson is, it is that passion that leads him to these selections. My opinion is that Johnson would select 15 Islanders if it meant he beat Scotland and Argentina in the RWC group stages.
Manu Tuilagi is an exciting prospect, if a little over-publicised and probably over-worked. He may be named after his island of birth and have a rich Samoan heritage and legacy behind him, but he is squarely declared for England. In the age of professionalism he is a much more valuable asset to ‘the Game’ as a World Cup winner than as that rare deft-handed Samoan.
This is what professionalism has done to our game. Performance loses out to results, tradition loses out to tomorrow’s kick-off and each player is a commodity.
Would I take a Tuilagi? Sure I would. Would I take a Toby Faletau? We don’t need him, but I would be glad of the back-up.
As it stands we are as ‘Scottish’ going into RWC 2011 as we were in 2007. We even seem to have more ‘players’ than we did then. The important thing for me, then, is that we play in the traditional Scottish way regardless of the characters we put on the pitch.
Tomorrow against Ireland we may be testing out certain individuals with an eye on England and their multi-cultural posse. Great. I want us to plan for that test. I would love it more, though, if we did it the Scottish way: defending like hell and offloading towards tries. A performance like that would make us all bristle like Thistles.