Wallabies: Opening Expats for selection

A number of Australia’s illustrious rugby players are based overseas, heading overseas post-Rugby World Cup (RWC) or undecided on their futures. Do the Wallabies really have the depth to continue to resist selecting overseas-based players? Who would wear Wallabies gold if selection policies were to change today?

The RWC will run from the 18th of September, until the 31st of October later this year. Photo sourced from: www.sportsnetholidays.com
The RWC will run from the 18th of September, until the 31st of October later this year.
Photo sourced from: http://www.sportsnetholidays.com

The Wallabies have been on a downward spiral in world rankings, falling to sixth, their lowest position since international rankings were introduces over a decade ago. It has also been twelve years since the Wallabies have won a Bledisloe cup. This, in conjunction with a Wallabies exodus, has lead many rugby commentators and fans to call for a policy change, providing overseas-based players the ability to don the Wallabies jersey if selected.

Dual Waratahs’ and Wallabies’ coach, Michael Cheika, has recently overturned his predecessor’s (Ewen McKenzie) policy on national eligibility for overseas-bound players. Mentioning that “it doesn’t matter if they’re contracted for one year, or three years or ten years, if they are contracted here and contracted until the end of December, I don’t see any reason why [they shouldn’t be selected].”

Dual Waratahs and Wallabies coach, Michael Cheika Photo source from: www.smh.com.au
Dual Waratahs and Wallabies coach, Michael Cheika
Photo source from: http://www.smh.com.au

Ewen McKenzie introduced the policy in 2013, before making the contentious decision to call on France-bound Sitaleki Timani’s services later that year. Cheika’s changes however, will allow the likes of Wallabies’ stalwart Adam Ashley-Cooper, Nick Cummins (who is on loan from Japan), Scott Higgenbotham, Sekope Kepu, Wycliff Palu and Nic White to be selected for the World Cup squad.

A number of notable players and ex-players have gone a step further to state that Australian overseas based players should be open for selection. Ex-Wallaby Rod Kaffer said that “the mission of Australian rugby is to be the number one rugby-playing nation in the world. We’ve got to aspire to that. In order to get there I think you’ve got to have your best players on the field.”

Matt Giteau playing for Toulon Photo sourced from: www.dailytelegraph.com.au
Matt Giteau playing for Toulon
Photo sourced from: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au

Another ex-Wallaby Greg Martin agrees that “That rule needs to be changed”, in relation to selection policies, saying that, “[the Wallabies are] not good enough, we don’t have enough great players to say no to Drew Mitchell… to [Matt] Giteau. Why would we say no to them?”

Cheika and the ARU officials don’t need to look very far to see the benefits that could be attributed to allowing offshore players to wear the gold jersey. Not only does it provide other national rugby teams with greater player depth and success but Ange Postecoglou, the coach of the Socceroos, has demonstrated a blue print for success. A few weeks ago he gathered Australia’s best soccer talent from around the world and a mere day later, they drew with the world champions Germany.

France-based Steffon Armitage is fighting for English selection. Photo sourced from: www.newslocker.com
France-based Steffon Armitage is fighting for English selection.
Photo sourced from: http://www.newslocker.com

Michael Cheika is not the only international coach receiving pressure on selection policies, with English rugby coach Stuart Lancaster set to invoke an “exceptional circumstances” clause in their selection policy. This will allow in form, overseas-based Nick Abendanon and Giteau’s Toulon team mate, Steffon Armitage to be selected in their World Cup squad.

In the modern era, should professional rugby players really be forced to earn a significantly reduced salary in order to represent their country? The rugby player is a limited asset and no one knows when their careers will end. If they have done the hard yards in Australia, they should have the right to experience rugby overseas. It would develop their rugby knowledge and skills, which they can bring back to the Wallabies, benefitting the team.

Wallabies legend Nathan Sharpe believes “there needs to be something put in place,” believing that after a certain amount of “[game] time, games played, [or] whatever it might be”, a player should have the right to play abroad. He suggests that for an example, after a player has played 40 test caps, he has the right to sign overseas and still represent the Wallabies.

To all the naysayers out their that think this will create a stampede of players traveling abroad to showcase their skills, there are a number of reasons players stay in Australia. Lifestyle, friends and family, Super Rugby, our beaches! Sorry ACT fans… So to an extent players will travel overseas, but to be fair, they already are.

Ex-Wallabies' teammates Drew Mitchell and Matt Giteau, now play alongside each other at Toulon. Photo sourced from: www.foxsports.com.au
Ex-Wallabies’ teammates Drew Mitchell and Matt Giteau, now play alongside each other at Toulon.
Photo sourced from: http://www.foxsports.com.au

A number of overseas-based players would offer class and experience to the World Cup squad and a few would be vying for starting and match day 23 positions.

If the policy was changes today and i received a call from Cheika to select his match day squad, this is who i would pick for the Wallabies squad. There are sure to be a number of contentious decisions, but it wouldn’t be fun if there wasn’t.

Kane Douglas could add a lot of grunt to the Wallabies second row, if eligible.  Photo sourced from: www.zimbio.com
Kane Douglas could add a lot of grunt to the Wallabies second row, if eligible.
Photo sourced from: http://www.zimbio.com

Starting squad (test caps) – Other positions:
1- James Slipper (63)
2- Stephen Moore (92)
3- Sekope Kepu (52)
4- Rob Simmons (50)
5- Kane Douglas (14)
6- Scott Fardy (20) – Second row
7- David Pocock (45)
8- Ben McCalman (38)
9- Nick Phipps (28)
10- Bernard Foley (18)
11- James O’Conner (44) – Flyhalf, inside centre, fullback
12- Matt Giteau (92) – Halfback, flyhalf
13- Adam Ashley-Cooper (104) – Wing, fullback
14- Drew Mitchell (63) – Fullback
15- Israel Folau (29) – Wing

Bench:
16- Tatafa Polota-Nau (50)
17- Scott Sio (5)
18- Ben Alexander (72)
19- Sitaleki Timani (18)
20- Michael Hooper (42)
21- Will Genia (58)
22- Tevita Kurindrani (20)
23- Henry Speight (2)

This side boasts 751 test caps on the starting side, with 267 on the bench, with overseas-based players adding a lot of experience.

Other players plying their trade abroad, that could be considered for national squad selection include: Selesi Ma’afu (14), Dan Palmer (1), Hugh Pyle (0), Hugh McMeniman (22), Dean Mumm (33), Peter Kimlin (2), Ben Mowen (15), George Smith (111), Richard Brown (23), Berrick Barnes (51), Digby Ioane (35), Cooper Vuna (2), Rod Davies (1)

Who would you select in your match day 23 if you could select players from abroad? Leave a comment below and share your opinion.

Written by Nelson Dale

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