Now it can claim its first international rugby player. Finlay Bealham made the long haul from his native Canberra to Dublin on the strength of a grandmother from Fermanagh’s county town.
As Ireland’s newest prop, her grandson has followed a familiar inter-continental path into the Six Nations, so familiar that almost 40 have made the trip over the last two seasons.
The Southern Hemisphere numbers are now so large it is possible to pick two complete teams and still have enough left over for a full bench. The Six Nations has become the United Nations, not far everyone will rejoice at the blurring of boundaries.
Far from it. The global effect on an ever-rising scale is best illustrated in the selections here, based on appearances over the last two seasons. Some, like Bealham, have ancestral rights to represent the old country. As one who has lived in the Gwent valleys from the age of seven, Taulupe Faletau has every right to play for Wales.
But the majority of those who have switched allegiance have done so via the 36-month residential rule. Nobody questions their commitment to whatever cause they choose but World Rugby has done the game a disservice by its failure to raise the qualification period to five years, at the very least. Rather than make a tacit admission they got it wrong in the first place, the ostriches running the game bury their heads in the sand.
And next season a new batch of ‘project players’ from far-flung parts will be eligible, like Connacht’s Junior All Black flanker Jake Heenan. Countries in brackets denote the journey made by each individual.
15 Gareth Anscombe (New Zealand to Wales), 14 Tommy Seymour (USA to Scotland), 13 Jared Payne (New Zealand to Ireland), 12 Manu Tuilagi (Samoa to England), 11 Virimi Vakatawa (Fiji to France), 10 Kelly Haimona (New Zealand to Italy), 9 Rory Kockott (South Africa to France); 1 Finlay Bealham (Australia to Ireland), 2 Richardt Strauss (South Africa to Ireland), 3 WP Nel (South Africa to Scotland), 4 Josh Furno (Australia to Italy), 5 Quintin Geldenhuys (South Africa to Italy), 6 CJ Stander (South Africa to Ireland), 7 James Hardie (New Zealand to Scotland), 8 Billy Vunipola (Australia to England)
15 Scott Spedding (South Africa to France), 14 Sean Maitland (New Zealand to Scotland), 13 Gonzalo Garcia (Argentina to Italy), 12 Brad Barritt (South Africa to England), 11 Noa Nakaitaca (Fiji to France), 10 Greig Tonks (South Africa to Scotland), 9 Isaac Boss (New Zealand to Ireland); 1 Mako Vunipola (New Zealand to England), 2 Dylan Hartley (New Zealand to England), 3 Nathan White (New Zealand to Ireland), 4 Jake Ball (Australia to Wales), 5 Ben Toolis (Australia to Scotland), 6 Josh Strauss (South Africa to Scotland), 7 Hugh Blake (New Zealand to Scotland), 8 Taulupe Faletau (Tonga to Wales).
Bernard le Roux (South Africa–France), Blair Cowan (New Zealand–Scotland), David Denton (Zimbabwe–Scotland), Dries van Schalkwyk (South Africa–Italy), Dario Chistolini (South Africa–Italy), Braam Steyn (South Africa–Italy), Uini Atonio (New Zealand–France), Samuel Vunisa (Fiji – Italy), Luke McLean (Australia – Italy).
Under-11 clash breeds four internationals
There can never have been an under-11 match to compare with East Wales v West Wales at the turn of the century.
Four of those involved that day appeared in Six Nations action at the weekend for three different countries.
The Vunipola brothers and Taulupe Faletau joined forces on one side because their Tongan fathers were playing for Pontypool at the eastern end of the Welsh rugby belt.
And who should be on the other side among the little kids of West Wales, staring up at the Polynesian goliaths but another embryonic Test player and an Irish one to boot?
Rhys Ruddock, born in his mother’s native Dublin, was living in Swansea where his father, Mike, coached the local team before going on to do some famous things for Wales.
How the Vunipolas slipped through the Welsh net is still a sore point, as articulated by a Welsh stand-off from the same valley, Paul Turner: “Tongans with Pontypool accents playing for England — you couldn’t make it up.”
England are champions, deservedly so, and anyone with half a heart will be moved by the renaissance of a back-row forward ridiculed and humiliated by his own compatriots for the World Cup fiasco.
Take a bow, Chris Robshaw, who is proof that you can’t keep a good man down, no matter how hard you kick him.
How ironic that the Scots, who pride themselves on being more hostile to their southern neighbours than anyone else, should have secured them the title six days before the Grand Slam decider, in Paris. The rest may look anti-climactic, but the penultimate match, Ireland-Scotland at the Aviva, will be worth around €1.5m in prize money to the ex-double champions, if they make the jump from second-bottom to third.
Re-sets took too big a chunk out of game
The scrum reared its ugly head again yesterday at Murrayfiield, from the first set-piece to the last. From a total of 12, two-thirds ended in penalties or free kicks, all bar one for Scotland since they had 11 put-ins. Referee Glen Jackson’s failure to show the slightest impatience at multiple collapses ensured the recurring re-sets took far too big a chunk out of the game. According to my time-keeping, the 12 scrums added up to 19 minutes, or almost 25% of the match.
England and Wales brought the area into further disrepute pre-Twickenham, each accusing the other of cheating in the pre and post-engagement. On a day when there were mercifully few re-sets, the 16 scrums took 16 minutes and 28 seconds, one-fifth of the match.
In Dublin, 11 Ireland-Italy scrums accounted for marginally more than 10 minutes. Phil O’Callaghan, the former Dolphin prop who turns 70 later this month, would surely have felt short-changed, just as he was during an Ireland-England match almost 50 years ago when the referee penalised him for boring into his opponent at an angle instead of scrummaging straight.
‘You’re boring,’ the ref told O’Callaghan to which the wizard of wit from Ballyphehane replied, ‘You’re not that entertaining yourself…’
Cronin the permanent sub
Sean Cronin might have been basking in the glory this morning of being the first forward to score a hat-trick of tries in the Six Nations. He settled for one instead and the extension of a record unique in its sheer oddity.
Leinster’s hooker has won two championship titles as a permanent member of the Six Nations’ supporting cast. And in six seasons, he has still to start a match in the tournament.
All 25 appearances have been made off the bench and he will expect to be sitting in his natural habitat for Saturday’s concluding match against Scotland.
In 50 Tests, Cronin has started eight.
Joubert is not always on message
‘Craig Joubert is an extremely good communicator with the players’ – Wales forwards’ coach Robin McBryde before Twickenham. What..?
Try telling that to the Scots. They would dearly love to know why the South African referee gave Australia the dodgiest of dodgy penalties which robbed Scotland of a World Cup semi-final.
The only communicating Joubert did that day was to pull the communication cord and flee from the pitch.
After almost six months without a word of explanation, the Scots know they have a fat chance of getting one any day soon.