’IM­PORTED’ PLAY­ERS WEL­COMED

Jones de­fends Eng­land’s foreign le­gion

New Straits Times - - Sport -

LON­DON

ED­DIE Jones has in­sisted he is happy to pick any­one qual­i­fied to play for Eng­land, re­gard­less of their birth­place. Glouces­ter’s Willi Heinz joined Eng­land for their lat­est train­ing camp in Brighton, with the New Zealand-born scrum-half qual­i­fy­ing through his grand­mother.

Heinz rep­re­sented New Zealand’s Un­der-21s and even played against Eng­land for Super Rugby out­fit the Cru­saders in 2014 be­fore join­ing Glouces­ter in 2015.

Jones, speak­ing on Tues­day at Eng­land’s ho­tel in Brighton, on Eng­land’s south coast, said of Heinz: “He’s got a good feel for the game, but you’ve got to re­mem­ber we’re bring­ing him in for this train­ing camp only. I wouldn’t be mak­ing a big song and dance about it.”

Plenty of rugby pun­dits be­lieve it is em­bar­rass­ing that a coun­try with a large play­ing base such as Eng­land should have any need at all for ‘im­ported’ play­ers.

In the mean­time Jones, him­self an Aus­tralian who as well as coach­ing his na­tive Wal­la­bies has also been in charge of Japan and acted as a con­sul­tant to the South Africa side that won the 2007 World Cup, is sim­ply happy to op­er­ate un­der the rules as they stand now.

“It’s not my job to worry about how they qual­ify, it’s my job to pick play­ers that qual­ify,” said for­mer school­teacher Jones.

“I don’t care how they qual­ify, I’ll pick them.”

Bris­tol’s Glouces­ter-bound fly­half Ja­son Wood­ward, an­other New Zealand-born back, has also been given his first Eng­land callup by Jones.

Their se­lec­tions for the train­ing came af­ter Sale’s New Zealand-born wing Denny Solomona, who played in­ter­na­tional rugby league for Samoa, was in­cluded in the Eng­land squad for next month’s two-Test tour of Ar­gentina af­ter qual­i­fy­ing via res­i­dency.

“That’s the rules we play un­der,” said Jones. “I obey them like any good school­teacher does.”

He added: “Some play­ers ring me and say ‘I want to play for Eng­land’, oth­ers I ring and say ‘look, you qual­ify, would you like to be in­volved with Eng­land?’

“They ei­ther say yes with a smile or yes with a grin, or they don’t.

“I don’t con­trol who qual­i­fies and who doesn’t.”

This train­ing camp has seen Jones with­out play­ers from English Pre­mier­ship semi-fi­nal­ists Sara­cens, Ex­eter, Wasps and Le­ices­ter, as well as Northamp­ton, who are pre­par­ing for a semi-fi­nal in the play-offs that will de­cide the last en­trant into next sea­son’s Euro­pean Cham­pi­ons Cup.

While de­fend­ing Heinz’s in­clu­sion, Jones said his de­ci­sion to se­lect the likes of Sale’s 18-yearold Curry twins, Ben and Tom, proved how keen he was to pro­mote English youth play­ers.

“Tell me, who is there?” asked Jones, of po­ten­tial avail­able scrum-half al­ter­na­tives to Heinz.

“I look at ev­ery­thing. You don’t think I’ve done my home­work?

“I’m pick­ing the best play­ers avail­able to play for Eng­land.

“I’ve picked two 18-year-olds. I’ve picked Nathan Earle, who’s played half a Pre­mier­ship game.

“I’ve picked Nick Isiekwe, who’s only played one Pre­mier­ship game.

“And you’re say­ing I’m not look­ing at youth. Are you se­ri­ous? Wouldn’t my record sug­gest I have?”

Jones, who has lost just one game as Eng­land coach — March’s de­feat by Ire­land in Dublin that cost his Six Na­tions cham­pi­ons back-to-back Grand Slams — said he was keep­ing an eye on the num­ber of over­seas­born play­ers in his squad but stressed that the cir­cum­stances in which he was op­er­at­ing ne­ces­si­tated cer­tain choices.

“We’ve got a train­ing camp in Brighton and we’re miss­ing five clubs plus (Bri­tish and Ir­ish) Lions, plus what­ever, and you’re sug­gest­ing I’m not look­ing at the bal­ance,” he ex­plained.

“I’m strug­gling to get num­bers to train.

“But we never know when we might need these play­ers.

“Go back to the 2011 World Cup and Stephen Don­ald, the fifth­choice num­ber 10 com­ing through for New Zealand.

“We might get to the fi­nal in 2019 and need to find the fifth­choice num­ber nine (scrumhalf ).

“Now I know who the fifth­choice num­ber nine po­ten­tially is.” AFP

REUTERS PIC

Eng­land head coach Ed­die Jones dur­ing team train­ing at Brighton Col­lege on Tues­day.

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