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Peter Bills: England's overseas player selection row

Talking Rugby...

So England select some overseas players available to them and certain critics, including from the players’ ranks, moan. How predictable. England for the little Englanders, eh?

Luke Narraway’s thinly disguised attempt at a complaint at seeing an England squad that contains the likes of Kiwi Thomas Waldrom, South African Mouritz Botha, South African Matt Stevens and Samoan born Manu Tuilagi should be answered with a frank point.

‘Son, if you were really good enough, you’d be in there no matter who else was or wasn’t.'

I liked the cut of England boss Martin Johnson’s jib when he was questioned about the presence of the overseas born players in the 45 strong preliminary group. "No one has said anything to me so I'll report back if they do," he replied. "I've not had that feedback from anyone.

In other words, take a running jump. And Johnson is right. England don’t have a centre of any quality right now so Tuilagi had to come in. He has power and potential just as long as he can keep his fists in better order than of late.

Waldrom is your archetypal Kiwi; he does the basics well and consistently. He’s solid and industrious. He is just the sort of player to inspire others and create good habits in younger players around him.

Besides, this is not exactly a new innovation for England, choosing overseas born players. Look at Shontayne Hape, Riki Flutey and Dylan Hartley. None of them were born in Lewisham.

Criticism of Johnson’s selection shows a lack of worldliness on the part of his critics. Because look at all the other countries of the world who have selected overseas players when it has suited them. New Zealand would hardly have been able to select a full XV in recent years without the help of myriad players from the South Pacific islands.

Many of them have had only tenuous links to New Zealand but they have been chosen. Only one criteria has applied – were they good enough? If they were, they were included. And there was no debate.

France have selected South Africans like Eric Melville and Pieter de Villiers in the past; Ireland selected Australian Brian Smith, now England’s attack coach, when he was at Oxford University some years ago and Scotland chose Kiwis lie Brendan Laney. Then there was Wales. Didn’t they select a New Zealander, Shane Howarth, at full-back? And didn’t it emerge long afterwards that perhaps his Grandma wasn’t after all the cast-iron guarantor of qualification that she was made out to be at the time?

So why shouldn’t England do it? And remember, didn’t England once choose a white Russian to dazzle Twickenham crowds? Now that’s going back a few years……

It IS an indictment, of course, of the English system that the national squad has to include overseas born players. But it is because the Aviva Premiership has become so multi-cultural with players from all around the world coming to this country to play. In many cases, they have filled the positions that would have been held by young English lads – like Luke Narraway. But as I say, the best English players still found a way into the squad or team.

I see nothing whatsoever wrong with that. In fact, I think it strengthens England. For the best young players of this country to see and work with players with exemplary standards from overseas can only enhance their learning process. It’s like soccer – surely Arsenal’s young players benefitted from the presence of Frenchmen like Thierry Henry and Robert Pires at their club. Didn’t aspiring youngsters at Tottenham thrill to the skills and exploits of David Ginola a few years back?

Johnson is right to move in this direction. Of that there is no doubt.