Tuesday 24 January 2017

Neil Francis: It will soon become the British & Irish & Tongan & Samoan & Fijian Lions

Representing your country has to be in the blood

Published 10/03/2016 | 02:30

Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi
Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi

Last week over in London, one thing was abundantly clear in the great metropolis - London no longer belongs to the English. Indeed it is strange to see the general population wonder in amazement as middle England hop on a train from Waterloo to go to Twickenham.

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Who are these wonderfully well-mannered jolly and possibly slightly inebriated people? What team wears white and has a crimson rose over its heart? Twickenham, and I hate using this term, is the last bastion of middle class middle England.

I have to say it, the people that walk from the train to the stadium are the very best of British - civilised, courteous, and full of good humour, pleasant and entertaining hosts and far more gracious winners or losers than they are given credit for.

The match could have gone either way but England deserved to win. They were a little bit sharper, a lot more physical and they eventually converted some of their second half dominance onto the scoreboard

I would not say that Billy Vunipola was the difference between winning and losing but in a spectrum of factors, his presence and his performance made an appreciable difference. Viliami Vunipola was man of the match and now we wait for Saturday for the big England v Wales showdown with his cousin Tangaki Taulupe Faletau. The quest to see who has the best Tongan.

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Jamie Heaslip might not like to hear it but at this moment in time Vunipola and Faletau will be the two No 8s picked to go to New Zealand with the British & Irish & Tongan & Samoan & Fijian Lions side.

Billy Vunipola was born in Sydney, Australia and his brother Mako Vunipola was born in Wellington, New Zealand. Their father was Fe'ao Vunipola, who played for Tonga in the 1999 World Cup.

The children are Tongan but have Australian and New Zealand nationality but head over to the UK and live in Wales but decide to play for England after initially playing younger grade for Wales.

Faletau was born in Tofoa in Tonga and is the son of Kuli Faletau, another Tongan international. Taulupe has been resident in Wales since he was seven years of age.

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The Vunipolas and the Faletaus are close cousins and all played for the Welsh U-11 rugby XV back when they were kids in Wales. There was a story about the Vunipolas declaring for Wales but a Sliding Doors, toss of a coin situation decided that Billy and Mako would instead arbitrarily opt to offer their playing services to England.

We talk about what a great tradition and heritage the Six Nations has. Rivalries just don't become rivalries overnight - they take generations to develop. The slippage and erosion of these deeply held values continues.

You can't just do paper, scissors, rock or whatever it will be when it comes to joining Rangers or Celtic. The deep seated rivalries of say Real Madrid and Barcelona which split the country down the middle. OK I'm joining Barcelona. . . No I think I'll be joining Real. . . ah feck it the birds are better looking in Barcelona.

Wales or England? Flick of a coin? Does it not matter anymore whether you have any connect with the country whose jersey you wear in a Test match or understand their tradition or history?

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English fans will roar when Vunipola picks and goes - oblivious to the fact that he could just as easily be wearing a red jersey and cutting through English defences.

Manu Tuilagi looks like he will be in the England squad for the game this Saturday. His mother is some woman after giving birth to her eldest Henry in 1971 and finishing off 20 years later with Manu in 1991 - six very large boys delivered in that time.

All of Manu Tuilagi's brothers were born in and played for Samoa. Manu was also born in Samoa yet plays for England.

In 2010 he was due to be deported after he entered the UK on a tourist visa and stayed on longer than legally permitted. Tuilagi escaped deportation by the skin of his teeth but plays for the country that was ready to deport him. The Samoan continuously asserts his Samoan heritage and birthright and considers himself Samoan but plays for England. Citizenship or passports or a sense of belonging? You know, minor things.

France have started picking Fijians to play for them in the last few years. Every single Top 14 club has a Fijian winger playing for them. The clubs became like Madonna collecting children - everyone had to have a Bulibuli Fantaboulululi. The French picked Noa Nakaitaci for a season or two. I genuinely don't think he knows the rules of the game. An offensive and defensive liability, and his performance against the All Blacks in the World Cup quarter-final was something out of the Marx Brothers.

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Guy Noves has gone for Virimi Vakatawa - dangerous with ball in hand even more dangerous without. There must be a dozen indigenous old-fashioned French flyers who are better than these clowns. It won't be long now before France select an Englishman to play for them if he qualifies.

The number of blow-ins or people who were not born or reared in the country, who do not hold a passport or have citizenship, who get to represent their 'adopted' country multiplies every season.

At what point do the fans and rugby people say 'this is a joke'? What percentage of 'naturalised' players in a team do we need to have to make a mockery of it all?

When the Lions tour in 2017 what will the Kiwis say? Welcome home? Or will they give out socks about the South Sea Islanders and Kiwis who were not good enough to make it in New Zealand and headed north?

It is a good life. Carve out a six or seven-year career. Play in London, Paris, Rome, Dublin etc. in front of huge crowds and massive television audiences and live the life of the international player in the 'Best rugby tournament in the world'.

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I think the SANZAR countries don't laugh anymore - they feel embarrassed when northern hemisphere people try and tell them that the Six Nations is the best rugby championship in the world.

Ireland will probably have four 'naturalised' players in the squad of 23 announced today for the Italian game. In ten years' time what will that have gone up to? The criteria should never be 'are you good enough?' but instead, 'are you Irish enough?'.

People tell you that professionalism changes everything - but emphatically not when it comes to representing your country.

It has to be in the blood, the culture and the people. There has to be a definitive connection - or are you just happy to watch and support a team of tourists who go back home to their native land when it's all done?

They try hard and they sing the anthems and assimilate but that is not the point

Englishmen playing for England, Irishmen playing for Ireland. New Zealanders playing in green playing Tongans in white at Twickenham - there is no value in it.

Who do people want to represent them on the playing fields? Time to change the rules.

Irish Independent

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