Tuesday 27 June 2017

What can your country do for me, granny?

Hugh Farrelly

Grandad Farrelly was from Clare. He was born in Tulla in 1904 and we buried him there in 1989 after driving all the way down from the Dublin funeral mass with a Garda escort.

Those motorcycle outriders were provided because Sean had been a Chief Superintendent and he always exuded that air of stern authority conducive to progress in the force. Outside work, his main passions were golf (he played off a three handicap), Bunny Carr's Quicksilver, and Boyne Valley Honey drizzled on to Flora-covered white bread.

In short -- aside from shared DNA -- we had nothing in common, least of all a handed-down affiliation to Clare.

Thomas Waldrom is a major weapon in Leicester's armoury when they run out in Lansdowne Road against Leinster tomorrow. It is hard not to like this 27-year-old (known as Thomas The Tank Engine due to his less-than-svelte physique) who is as laidback off the pitch as he is driven on it.

While Waldrom's body shape is far off the fat-testing ideal, he has tremendous stamina, a good rugby brain and a, surprising, turn of pace. It is hard to find a contemporary to compare Waldrom with, but the one that most springs to mind is former Co Carlow No 8 Andy Melville.

When you saw Melville shuffling on to the pitch with belly out and socks rolled down, it was easy to snigger -- only for those smirks to turn to shock when the big Kiwi proceeded to run riot. Waldrom is cut from the same, large, piece of cloth, but there is no problem with the way this Kiwi plays -- the problem is his wish to play for England.

Last week, the Tank Engine rang his mum at 4.0am in New Zealand because he "remembered reading somewhere that my grandmother was English." Ma Waldrom confirmed this was true with the birth certificate to prove it and her son promptly announced his intention to make the England World Cup squad.

Waldrom is perfectly entitled to do so under the IRB's existing grandparent ruling, but, as usual with these 'what will your country do for me?' moves it leaves a sour taste. Born in Lower Hutt, he only left New Zealand when it became apparent that he was not in the All Blacks mix. now he wants to play for Martin Johnson's side, despite being as English as Eskimo Nell.

It could well happen. Waldrom is good enough and English rugby has happily embraced the overseas recruits in recent times with a string of players whose names (Lesley Vainikolo, Riki Flutey, Shontayne Hape, Carel Hendrik Fourie) tell their own mercenary story.

It is not just England, of course. Dan Parks and Nathan Hines play for Scotland, despite not even playing their rugby in that country and the chances of either Australian living happily ever after in the Highlands are remote.

Since Sonny Parker and Brent Cockbain exited the international stage, Wales have adhered to a homegrown policy, but their recent history throws up a host of dodgy southern hemisphere recruits like Brett Sinkinson, Jason Jones-Hughes and their very own Tony Cascarino, Shane Howarth.

And, it would be hypocritical to leave out the Irish. Brian Smith played for Ireland in the early 1990s despite playing against them for Australia at the 1987 World Cup. Scrum-half Christian Lingard Saverimutto was born by the Mersey and, aside from internationals, never played in Ireland.

Commitment

Matt Mostyn is back in Australia with six Irish caps to look back on, while Keith Wood's temporary understudy, Ross Nesdale, played for Newcastle, was capped 13 times by Ireland and went home to become part of the All Blacks' coaching team.

Brisbane-born Tom Court is in the current Ireland squad and, as popular and likeable as the Ulster prop is, he ain't Irish.

The three-year residency rule demands some aspect of commitment, but the principle is still flawed. There is something unsettling about the likes of Robbie Diack, Richardt Strauss and Steve Sykes coming here as 'project' players seeking to qualify for a country whose strongest pull-factor is as a salary source. What message does it send to homegrown players who could lose out?

This country-hopping issue is a complex one and something of a grey area. Solutions are not easy to come by, but one would be to limit eligibility to parents, a six-year residency clause and marriage (the ultimate commitment). Furthermore, if a player qualifies through his mother, father or wife, he should be required to play his club rugby in Ireland.

The grandparent gap is too large to bridge the national divide. If it's a long, long way from Clare to here, the journey from Lower Hutt to Twickenham should not be so easily negotiated.

Irish Independent

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