Brad Shields’ inclusion in England’s touring squad to South Africa has reignited the ever-raging debate of overseas international selection. Advocates of selecting foreign born players or allowing players who qualify under residency rules argue that it allows high quality players to play test rugby where perhaps such opportunities would not be available to them. The big difficulty with this debate is that there is no clear solution offered by those that disagree with these selection policies and I personally do not see one that would work any better than the system that is currently in place. In the case of Brad Shields his selection has been criticised as he is yet to play for an English club but equally England’s woes in the back-row help justify his inclusion in the squad. However, after a couple of strong performances Jones’ decision has been somewhat vindicated. Debate about similar selections will not doubt continue but it is important to note that almost every nation has exploited these rules to their advantage at some point. Ireland have brought in South African born CJ Stander into their side and New Zealand have countless south sea islanders playing in their ranks. This is not an isolated issue and needs to be treated as such.
“SHields Selection CRITICISED”
Shields’ selection has come in for criticism by some including ex-England international Lewis Moody who claims that Shields is yet to prove himself in England. Shields’ potential loyalty to England has also been questioned since he has been handed a spot in the England squad simply by signing for an English club. Moody’s claims however come across as somewhat naïve as they seem to suggest that Shields has been selected purely on reputation. If Eddie Jones sees Shields as a serous contender for world cup selection he had to include him in a squad this summer or at the latest in the Autumn. Shields is 28 years old, has played almost a decade of Super Rugby and it is hard to believe that Jones and the rest of coaching staff have not watched enough of him in order to arrive at their decision to put him in the squad. It is then fair to say that Shields has proved himself in the eyes of the England coaches and I struggle to believe that a couple of months in a Wasps shirt will do much harm or help his case for selection.
“Shields Has Proven Himself for WASPS”
Given England’s current issues in the back row in terms of injury and their struggles at the breakdown during the six nations a fresh face and a change up in selection may well be a good thing for this squad even if this has not translated directly to results on the field. In a hypothetical world where England had had a successful six nations and Robshaw and co were winning stacks of turnovers it is hard to imagine Jones making such a call. However, this is not the case, England are reeling from five successive defeats after his weekend’s loss at Ellis Park, and a fresh face in the squad may well have the effect of motivating the rest of England’s forwards to drive their performances upwards. Also giving the current unavailability in the England back row it is very easy for Jones to drop Shields come the Autumn should he not perform up to standard.
“A Fresh Face may REJUVENATE the Squad”
On the whole England’s decision to include Shields in the England squad is a positive one. As a nation we are struggling at the breakdown and we need to change something and even if it is designed to get a reaction out of the current crop of players. The debate surrounding selections of this type is unlikely end any time soon but until a viable alternative system is proposed then any meaningful debate surrounding these selections seems moot.