Great Britain have grasped a nettle they have previously avoided by naming a Tongan in their squad to face New Zealand in the three Test series which starts on Saturday. The forward Maurie Fa'asavalu, who signed for St Helens after the last rugby union World Cup, has been included in the 25-man squad having declared he wants to play for his adopted country.
Fa'asavalu's argument is that he is British in rugby league terms, never having played the game anywhere else. For residency purposes, he qualifies with something to spare. For all that, his inclusion will be controversial, if not exactly unprecedented. Born in South Africa, David Barends played twice for Great Britain in 1979, the difference being that there was no team for him to play for in his homeland. Tonga, on the other hand, have qualified for next year's World Cup in Australia.
The Australian-born but Irish-qualified Michael Withers made the preliminary squad several years ago, but was quietly dropped amid the debate over his inclusion.
The Australian-born Great Britain coach, Tony Smith, clearly sees enough advantages in using Fa'asavalu in his Saints role as an impact player from the bench to outweigh any criticism. His inclusion waters down the national identity of the squad, but that is a rubicon most other sports in most other countries crossed long ago.
He is one of five uncapped players in the party which will go into camp today. Apart from the young Bradford pair of Sam Burgess and Michael Platt, the others are Warrington's versatile Jon Clarke and Jamie Jones-Buchanan, a workhorse for Smith at Leeds all season.
Notable omissions include arguably the two form British props this year, St Helens' Nick Fozzard and Andy Lynch of Bradford, as well as another Saint, Lee Gilmour. The young wing sensation, Kevin Penny, will have to wait a little longer for the Test debut that will surely come given his performances of late.
"I believe this is a very strong squad which has a nice balance of youth and experience," Smith said. "We are ready to face three very difficult Tests against New Zealand, but with the World Cup in Australia less than 12 months away, I thought it important to bring in some new faces. By giving them a chance I think we will benefit greatly further down the line."
Smith will name his captain today, with Jamie Peacock the obvious candidate, especially as Adrian Morley, who led the Northern Union against the All Golds on Saturday, faces a possible ban when a video review panel decides tonight if he will be up on a high tackle charge tomorrow.
The Kiwis, already with one vacancy to fill, now have another, with their forward, David Kidwell, going home tomorrow to be with his terminally-ill mother.Reuse content