Welcome, Brad. Let’s hope you’re good.
From the other side of the world, the odd morning on the sofa suggests Brad Shields is good – a Chris Robshaw with added bite, certainly a dirtier, shaggier beard. He is captain of New Zealand’s most consistent province of the past few years, a champion to boot, and if those who watch Super Rugby more methodically than over the odd breakfast reckon he will add something to the England set-up who are the rest of us to argue.
More to the point, why are so many of us arguing? First things first, he qualifies. His parents are English, both of them. What’s more, they’ve moved back to England. Maybe his imminent move to Wasps is so he can be near them – lucrative contract with free childcare.
And before anyone complains that he wouldn’t know one end of a buttered scone from the other, don’t presume to know what life was like in the Shields household round the turn of the century, some of which apparently was spent in Texas anyway. For all we know, he grew up with tales of the motherland ringing in his ears, the flag of St George on his duvet, imported Marmite oiling his whitebait.
We must accept that he grew up wanting to play for the All Blacks (which child in New Zealand doesn’t?), but the notion that that precludes him from wanting to play for England too is laughably old-fashioned. And wrong. Again, let’s not presume to be able to see into his soul.
He will be considered a New Zealand cast-off, but maybe New Zealand were wrong too. Make no mistake, that snotty press release from the NZRU was issued not because any regulations, or even principles, have been violated but because they don’t like the fact he is about to enhance one of their rivals.
And that’s the nub of the matter. There’s more uproar in England about this than there is in New Zealand, but this is purely a rugby decision. Eddie Jones cares not for emotional arguments. Indeed, he prefers confounding public opinion. His job is to pick who he thinks are the right players from those available.
The arguments surrounding Shields not having set so much as a stud on English soil are emotional and thus, again, old-fashioned. The arguments surrounding the unavailability of others playing abroad are wilfully obtuse, some having chosen to leave English rugby, Shields having committed to join. And the notion that England have ‘had to’ pick Shields because they can’t produce players of their own is ridiculous. Jones has picked him simply because he thinks he’s better than enough of those available.
Jones may be wrong, but there is nothing more or less to his decision than that. Surely people are used by now to the idea that not every international has grown up in the country they represent or speaks with the relevant accent. As long as they qualify, they are fair game. Shields qualifies. Welcome, Brad.
Michael Aylwin’s novel about the future of sport, Ivon, is out now