You can't blame Wales for selecting New Zealand-born flyhalf Gareth Anscombe, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Anscombe played for the 2011 Junior World Championship-winning New Zealand U20s, the Blues and the Chiefs, before joining the Cardiff Blues last year. And on Tuesday, having played just nine matches for his new club, the 23-year-old was selected for Wales' Six Nations squad, triggering heated debate on 'rugby imports' in the UK.
Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill slammed Wales' Kiwi coach Warren Gatland for selecting Anscombe ahead of the Tigers' Welsh flyhalf Owen Williams, who has been in good form in the English Premiership, saying Wales had 'chosen to pick a Kiwi instead of him'.
As Welsh rugby writer Simon Thomas pointed out in a column for walesonline.co.uk, Cockerill's statement was a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, as he'd had no problem when New Zealander Dylan Hartley was selected for England ahead of Leicester's home-grown hooker Tom Youngs.
The fact is Wales have every right to select Anscombe. His mother was born in Cardiff, which makes him eligible to represent his adopted nation without having to serve World Rugby's three-year residency qualification period, and he has made Cardiff his new home.
Williams may be a born-and-bred Welshman, but he has committed to an English club for the next two years and ironically wasn't selected at 10 by Cockerill for Leicester's recent match against the Llanelli Scarlets. That counted against him when the Wales squad was selected as Gatland had wanted to see how he performed against Rhys Priestland.
There was more controversy on Tuesday surrounding the selection of former New Zealand U20 flank Hugh Blake for Scotland's Six Nations squad.
The 22-year-old joined Edinburgh from Otago last December and has yet to play for his new club, but Scotland's Kiwi coach Vern Cotter clearly believes he's worth investing in now. Yes, Blake has only been in the country for a few weeks, but he qualifies to play for Scotland through two grandparents. No rules have been broken.
On Wednesday, Brenden Nel, in a column for SuperSport.com, asked if rugby was losing its soul because of 'rugby imports' like Anscombe and Blake. 'Surely Test rugby is still a test between nations? One country produces its best and pits its skills against another who does the same,' he wrote.
While I wouldn't want a situation where a Test team has more foreign imports than locally-produced players in their lineup, a sprinkling of imports can be good for the global game.
One of the problems with rugby's World Cup, compared to soccer's, is that so few teams can realistically expect to win it. If an 'import' like Anscombe – who would never have played for the All Blacks with Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett around – can help Wales go from World Cup hopefuls to serious title contenders, it will heighten interest in the 2015 tournament.
A country like Scotland has such a small player base that someone like Blake is desperately needed to make them more competitive, while Ireland will also be much stronger when former Bulls loose forward CJ Stander becomes eligible for them after the World Cup.
It's worth remembering too that the selection of 'imports' occurs in other sports too. South Africans Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott have played cricket for England recently, while Brazilian-born striker Diego Costa played for Spain at the 2014 Fifa World Cup having represented Brazil on two occasions in 2013.
Soccer, cricket and rugby are all professional sports, and you cannot deny professionals the opportunity to represent an adopted country if they are eligible to do so.
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