Sunday 25 March 2018

Big Ben eyeing up England call after taking scenic route

Leinster's Ben Te'o (Photo: SPORTSFILE)
Leinster's Ben Te'o (Photo: SPORTSFILE)
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

When Ben Te'o and Sam Burgess decided to leave the South Sydney Rabbitohs to try their hand at rugby union, you'd have gotten long odds that the New Zealander of Samoan extraction would be the one who is being tipped to form part of England's midfield.

Chances are, both men will be in Sydney this June but while Burgess is back in rugby league after a disastrous stint in the 15-man code, Te'o (below) has been receiving text messages of encouragement from Eddie Jones.

While his old team-mate made his mistakes on the biggest stage, the 29-year-old was able to re-learn the skills of union away from the limelight.


Burgess's every move were tracked by a fascinated media, but Te'o's profile is pretty low in Dublin as he slowly grew into a key member of Leinster's squad who will be sorely missed when he moves to Worcester.

"When I first got here, I was on a flight over to Wales," he recalled of his apprenticeship. "I played some British and Irish game in Carmarthen, you know what I mean? I played a few games, and I was back in the B&I, I really put in a lot of hard work in games and on the training paddock. I think that's the only way, was playing games.

"I had lot more experience, learning all the steps, he (Burgess) went in pretty early, didn't he? He was also playing two positions at once, so I can see how that would have been very difficult.

"It was pretty important to come to a club like this with so much experience, guys who have won things, for them to be so good to me.

"I came in and there were probably some guys looking over their shoulder thinking, 'I don't know about this guy', but they all helped me and I'd have to say that 80pc of all things I've learned in rugby union has come from my team-mates giving you little tips. That's where most of my learning has come from."

Te'o qualifies for England through his mother and Jones has already made contact. His status as a non-English contracted player might preclude him from touring Australia this summer, but the Grand Slam-winning coach has a knack for making things happen.

"All the time," he said with a smile when asked if Jones keeps ringing him. "Ah, there's been a couple of texts here and there. It's nice he's shown a little bit of interest.

"It is nice to be mentioned. I don't feel right now it has changed my thinking at all. Look I have got two regular-season games to go, then the final series. If something happens it happens, if it doesn't it doesn't. There is just another step forward."

Leinster signed the hard-carrying, big-tackling centre as a project player and, had they been able to match the lucrative offer Worcester made, he might have decided to wear the green, rather than white shirt.

He is confident he made the right decision.

"A year is a long time, you don't know what's around the corner in terms of what the Irish coaches are thinking, they might go the other way," he said.


"I just think when you see an opportunity and it feels right, just take it and go with it."

Before all of that, he wants to leave his mark with Leinster.

For all that he is a straight-talking, unrepentant professional, his commitment to the cause was there for all to see when he was smashing into tackles in the end-game against Munster and he will be a key part of Leo Cullen's side's run-in; starting with another derby against Ulster this weekend.

"When you play for a team and you train with a team and you know the guys… you are invested in it," he said.

"All these games are important for me. We did a full pre-season without the World Cup guys. There was just me and all the academy kids. I've played almost every game all the away games so I'm pretty invested in this team and wanting to win."

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