Ben Te’o could prove the one that got away for Ireland

Jared Payne. Richardt Strauss. CJ Stander.

Ben Te’o could prove the one that got away for Ireland

Ireland have been relatively latecomers to the party when it comes to naturalising foreign players for service in the national colours, but the quality has largely made up for any lack of quantity and it may be that Bundee Aki joins those ranks some time next year.

The Connacht centre would be a wonderful addition to the Irish squad, regardless of peoples’ opinions on the rights or wrongs of the ease with which players can declare for faraway unions nowadays, but another gem is about to slip through the fingers.

Few people paid much attention when Leinster signed Ben Te’o from the South Sydney Rabbitohs. A teammate of Ben Burgess, he arrived in Europe in the shadow of his more famous colleague, but he has outlasted Burgess by some distance and could soon assume his role in England’s midfield.

Te’o actually broke an arm on his first start for Leinster, but the manner in which he has reintegrated into union after eight years playing league in Australia has been astonishing, though he stresses it wasn’t an easy conversion despite a childhood background in union.

“There was a lot of really hard times in terms of the skill set and training and early days when sometimes I thought had I spent too far away, too long away from the game … I had to fall back in love with rugby, to be honest, to really make sure I excelled.”

The World Cup was the real turning point. He watched most of it with his flatmate Noel Reid, picked the brains of his teammates and coaches and he put in the hard yards from his first game for Leinster was a B&I Cup game away before one man and a dog in Carmarthen. That slow burn was the exact opposite to the pressure cooker atmosphere into which Burgess was landed with Bath and England and Te’o doesn’t demur when it is suggested that he was better protected by his more cautious employers here than Slammin’ Sam.

Another year and he was eligible for Ireland, but he decided against the green route or that of Australia or his native New Zealand by agreeing to sign for Worcester Warriors come the summer and he may well play for England before his new club.

Tough choice? “I just thought 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. I just think when you see an opportunity and it feels right just take it and go with it.”

With an English mother, the only thing stopping him playing for England this summer is his current registration with a non-English club, but moves are reportedly afoot to speed up that process and make him available for the tour to Oz. Eddie Jones is clearly a fan. The pair have been in contact already and the England manager waxed lyrical about Te’o’s days in league recently before describing the player as one of three world-class options available to him at inside-centre. He will be missed. His performances have spoken for themselves and the emotive roar he released after halting Mike Sherry with a last-second tackle on the Leinster line at the Aviva Stadium earlier this month spoke of a man still committed to his current employers.

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