Behind the arms race for dual qualified rugby talent

The quintet who made their England debut last weekend in Rome – Chandler Cunningham-South, Fraser Dingwall, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Ethan Roots and Fin Smith – had one interesting trait in common; they all qualified to play for other countries as well as England.

If you were cynical, perhaps you could argue that it was a wise move by head coach Steve Borthwick to limit them all against Italy so as not to lose those talented players to other countries down the road.

Due to the move made by World Rugby at the end of 2021 to relax restrictions on players being “tied” to one union, and that players were already only able to ever play international rugby for that team, the which is still career defining. the decision does not come with the same limitations if a player falls out of favor. Players can now move countries after a three-year promotion period provided they were born or a parent or grandparent was born in that country, with an example in this year’s Six Nations being new Scotland prop Alec Hepburn, capped by England with him back. in 2018.

However, the arms race to try and attract top talent to represent a country at Test level remains as fierce as ever and starts earlier than you might realise, from the time the talents which is still rising at the school level.

Cam Redpath is an interesting example. Back in 2018, Redpath was called up to train with the England squad when he was just 17 and still a pupil at Sedbergh. The son of former Scotland captain and scrumhalf Bryan Redpath, had it not been for an ill-timed ACL injury, there was a strong chance that Redpath would have been dropped by England on the summer tour to South Africa while still a member. teenager

Eddie Jones and England then moved on, with Redpath returning to full fitness playing for England Under-20s in the summer of 2019. Eighteen months later, Redpath was called up to the Scotland squad for the Six Nations, making his debut in the interior. center in victory against… England. In a parallel universe where his knee is still intact, Redpath might have been wearing white instead of blue on that historic day for Scotland when they beat Twickenham for the first time since 1983.

Cameron Redpath - Behind the arms race for dual qualified rugby talentCameron Redpath - Behind the arms race for dual qualified rugby talent

Scotland’s Cameron Redpath (centre) could be representing England if not injured – PA/David Davies

“Exile” clubs for Scotland, Wales and Ireland gradually began to emerge within the English system, offering those abroad a base to reconnect with home, in the talent recognition programs of the today. In the case of Scotland, that operation is necessary because of their smaller number of players and only two professional teams in Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh, hence the reason why 23 players in their squad are dually qualified by residency or family ties.

Through the Scottish Qualification Program (SQ) players can register themselves or be nominated, with volunteer coaches then running training sessions and mapping individual paths for young players and including them in age group squads, keeping in touch with parents, schools and universities. . Ben White, now Scotland’s starting half-back who qualifies through his grandparents, first started with the Scotland under-16 team before breaking into the England set-up, going on to captain the England under-20 team and playing for England against the Barbarians before the call came from Scotland.

Meanwhile Wales has the WRU Exiles programme, first launched in 1990, with players aged 13 and over registering online and then attending three to four events per years and working their way up through the age groups. Nick Tompkins and Will Rowlands are graduates of that programme.

At the time of writing, of the 228 players called up during the Six Nations, 72 are dually qualified. That number drops to 63 when you filter out players eligible to play for non-Rugby World Cup countries – England’s Maro Itoje, Beno Obano and Nick Isiekwe (Nigeria), France’s Cameron Woki (Democratic Republic of Congo), Gael Fickou (Senegal) and Dany Priso (Cameroon), Josh van der Flier (Netherlands) from Ireland and Alessandro Izekor (Nigeria) and Marco Manfredi (Germany) from Italy. Sebastian Negri, the Azzurri forward, was born in Zimbabwe but has also qualified for South Africa, so is not included.

There are also seven dually qualified players in the Six Nations squads who are still uncapped. Possible Englishmen Oscar Beard and Tom Roebuck qualify for Wales and Scotland respectively. Exciting Toulouse forward Emmanuel Meafou, currently injured but certain to play for France when fit, has qualified for Australia, New Zealand and Samoa. Ross Vintcent, one of Exeter’s leading players who has now been called up by the Azzurri, could represent South Africa, while Scotland have moved to Arron Reed (England) Sale and Ross McCann (England and Ireland). come in.

Tom Roebuck - Behind the arms race for dual qualified rugby talentTom Roebuck - Behind the arms race for dual qualified rugby talent

England have spotted Tom Roebuck from Scotland – Getty Images/David Rogers

Getting the call up to play test rugby will be the biggest moments of their lives. When those calls come inquiring about availability from countries you would never play for – Louis Rees-Zammit quickly turning down England in 2019, for example – the decision is easy to make.

But for those torn between representing multiple nations it can be a “very sensitive” situation, as one agent describes it. At senior level the unions will first contact the clubs about any call-ups, before players discuss their options with their families and advisers. Those who are unsure of which team to represent themselves can make themselves available to be called upon and then opt out if selected.

Fate, as seen by Redpath, also plays a part. Had Feyi-Waboso, after achieving three A*s, accepted to study medicine at Cardiff University, then instead of going first to Wasps and then Exeter where he is completing his medical degree at university playing for Chiefs, he probably would. to be running out at Twickenham on Saturday in Welsh red.

Those are the big decisions the next wave of future stars will face. Henry Pollock, a talent in the back from England, qualifies for Scotland. England under-18 hurler Kepueli Tuipulotu was born in Pont-y-pol and his sister, Sisilia, plays for Wales. Wilhelm de Klerk was one of Ireland’s best under-20 actors and was born in South Africa. The battle for all unions to defeat these players is just beginning.

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