Changing Allegiance-Ups and Downs

RugbyLAD takes a look at some players who changed allegiance in order to fulfil their international ambitions. Some work out, whereas others…

Lots of Southern Hemisphere countries (Fijian, Tongan, etc) lose good players due to players choosing to play with other countries, usually New Zealand. Some RugbyLADs would never dream of representing any country other than their country of birth. It would be difficult to imagine Richie McCaw or Dan Carter donning international jerseys apart from the famed kiwi shirt. Nor could any Irish supporter imagine the likes of Brian O’Driscoll or Paul O’Connell representing any country other than their own isle. These players have become part and parcel with rugby in their countries; children imitate them, men cheer them and women swoon over them. Nevertheless, not every player’s international ambitions go to plan. In this article, we will look at some players whose international career panned out differently than they would have imagined.

Michael Bent

Michael Bent

To begin with, who can forget poor Michael Bent? The ex-Taranaki and ex-Hurricanes prop forward was 26 when the IRFU brought him to Ireland. Bent qualified to play for Ireland as he had an Irish grandmother and he had already decided that he would never become an All Black. The Taranaki Player and Sportsman of the Year was promised immediate international representation and the Hawera born snapped it up.

Bent flew over in late October 2012 and was in the squad for the South Africa game on November 10th of the same year. He was named on the bench alongside a younger Dave Kilcoyne and made his debut late in the game. He made another appearance in the green shirt against Argentina a fortnight later. Fast forward three months later to the 2013 RBS Six Nations Championship and Bent was nowhere to be seen. He has not represented his grandmother’s native land since his two short appearances and can now be seen representing Leinster ‘A’.

Maybe in the future, he may make a dent in international rugby, but right now it seems that Bent’s move to Irish rugby may not have worked out.

Isakeli Nacewa

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If you ask any Leinster supporter who Isa Nacewa is you will surely be told about a player with extraordinary talent. Nacewa had it all. His attack was filled with fantastic running lines, he had a huge boot, his defence was solid. The Auckland born utility back (a player who can play nearly everywhere in the back line) has amassed 54 caps for Auckland, 44 caps for the Blues (who compete in the Super 15 league) and a further 126 for Leinster. He played for both the New Zealand Barbarians and made three appearances for the Barbarians. He won the Air New Zealand Cup in 2003, 2005 and 2007, being named the player of the tournament for the 2007 campaign. His move to Leinster proved fruitful, earning him three Heineken Cup winner’s medals in five seasons. In 2011, he was named the IRUPA and Leinster Rugby Player of the Year along with being shortlisted for the ERC European Player of the Year.

With these honours, one could only assume that his international career followed the same successful path. However, to assume makes an ass of you and me. With all these club honours and caps he has won, he has only a single international cap-a brief appearance for Fiji when he came off the bench in the 2003 Rugby World Cup against Scotland. Although Nacewa was born in New Zealand, he was eligible to play through ancestral Fijian links. But he was not content to be an international Fijian, yet this brief appearance was enough to stop him from ever becoming an All Black.

In 2006, Nacewa quit the Fijian team and sought legal advice concerning the annulment of his cap. The IRB, however, ruled otherwise, declaring him a Fijian citizen who represented Fiji at international level. In 2011, Nacewa reportedly rejected the chance to be part of the Fiji Rugby World Cup squad, stating, “My pregnant wife and my twin girls are my number one priority at the moment, however I wish the Fiji team and management all the best in the exciting year that follows and especially at the Rugby World Cup. Fiji has a competitive team at the World Cup and one that will go a long way.”[1]

For all of Isa Nacewa’s talent, we will always remember him as a phenomenal club player. It is a shame his talent never dazzled us on the international stage.

Nathan Hines

-Nathan-Hines-of-the-Lion-001

The colossal Aussie from New South Wales has quite a history when it comes to his club rugby. He first played rugby league with the North Sydney Bears in the 1997/98 season. He then moved to Gala RFC for a season before joining Edinburgh where he stayed for six seasons. He moved to Perpignan in 2005 and stayed there until 2009 (he reportedly refused to play for the French side in the latter stages of the domestic tournament in order to play with the British and Irish Lions in South Africa). He then joined Leinster where he won a Heineken Cup medal before leaving for his current club, Clermont Auvergne.

Hines qualified to play for Scotland through his Glaswegian grandfather and opted to represent the thistle than the wallaby. He brought about his fair share of headlines too. He was sent off during his third appearance for Scotland for punching Dan Anderson of the USA Eagles, becoming the first Scot to ever be sent off (an accolade I’m sure he did not set out to achieve!).

Hines debuted in 2000 against New Zealand at Eden Park. Serious injuries upset his international career for two years before he returned to the international stage to win his second cap against Canada in 2002. Hines went on to represent Scotland in the 2003 World Cup before taking a sabbatical in 2005 after an unhappy stint under Matt Williams. But he did not lose his desire. The rejuvenated second row returned in 2006 and played in the 2007 World Cup. Being selected for the 2009 Lions’ tour to South Africa further highlighted his talent, although he did not make an appearance in the test side. He then represented Scotland in all group matches at the 2011 World Cup, starting three games and coming off the bench for the fourth. After their exit from the tournament, Hines called it a day on his international career after amassing a total of 77 caps. Finishing his international career at that point also meant that he both started and finished it in Eden Park, a strange accolade for a player outside New Zealand.

With an international career of that standard behind him, it seems choosing Scotland was a good choice for the gargantuan Aussie.

Manu Tuilagi

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When Manu Tuilagi proved his talent was ready for the international arena, he decided he would rather play with England over his native Samoa as it was where he spent most of his life. Up to now, it seems to have been a good call for the young powerhouse. Although he once proved himself to be troublesome (he dove off a cruise ship during the last World Cup and, before that, landed three heavy (and some would say deserving) punches on Ashton a couple of seasons ago), the young Samoan-born rejuvenated himself under the control and watchful eye of Stuart Lancaster and Richard Cockerill. But don’t let his misdemeanours misguide you, he was still major part of that touring squad. He has made just one appearance short of fifty for Leicester and has accumulated 21 senior caps with England, along with caps for both the Saxons and the Lions.

Just like Ricky Flutey, this England international was born outside England but still proved himself worthy of a Lions’ spot. He was chosen, somewhat controversially, on the bench for the final Test against the Aussies ahead of Brian O’Driscoll who wasn’t deemed worthy of a place by the Wales-come-Lions head coach. The game may have been well decided by the time Tuilagi made his appearance but he is an asset to have an any bench. He can cross the gain line in most situations and usually draws in more players than his opposite number. As well as that, when he attacks a one-on-one situation with a defender, it usually ends well for him. But he has more than attack. His bone shuddering hits in defence are also a good argument for his inclusion, with anyone who runs at him being put down hard (Wally, for example). He aligns himself well with other players and rarely, if ever, shoots out of the line to leave defensive gaps. He outplayed Basteraud (the heavyset Frenchman, or, as George Hook referred to him, the fat French child) in the Heineken Cup this year, proving his size does not inhibit him like other players of his stature.

Whereas his discipline did come under scrutiny, he is no longer the hot-headed ill-tempered youth he once was. He is now one of the first names on the English squad sheet (alongside Brad Barrett the Bore, who for some reason, is seen as a revelation for Saracens) and will be for many years to come.


[1] Quote taken from the BBC website.

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