Could Ireland stars have been All Blacks? The debate raging in New Zeland rugby

Jamison Gibson-Park, Bundee Aki and James Lowe all had careers in Super Rugby before leaving to ply their trade in Ireland having failed to be capped at international level
Could Ireland stars have been All Blacks? The debate raging in New Zeland rugby

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, left, with team-mates Jamison Gibson Park, James Lowe and Bundee Aki. Could the trio born in New Zealand have become All Blacks? It's a question that has split pundits. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The Ireland team that defeated the All Blacks last weekend did so with no little help from three New Zealand-born players - a fact not lost on the Kiwis.

Jamison Gibson-Park, Bundee Aki and James Lowe all had careers in Super Rugby before leaving to ply their trade in Ireland having failed to be capped at international level, leaving the door open for them to represent their adopted home.

While Lowe and Gibson-Park did feature for the Maori All Blacks, they never earned a full international cap meaning that once they completed the residency period, they were available for selection for Ireland.

Jamison Gibson-Park, said John Kirwan, who played both rugby league and rugby union for New Zealand "could have been an All Black".

However, speaking on Sky Sport NZ show The Breakdown, World Cup winner Kirwan, who coached Gibson-Park at Auckland, described the scrum-half as "loose" in his younger days.

"He didn't have the application to maximise his ability back then. He's gone overseas, and he's done that," he said.

He differed on his opinion on Lowe and Aki, however, feeling the pair suffered from the depth of talent at the nation's disposal.

"Lowe was always good enough to be an All Black, but he had some amazing people ahead of him. The same with Bundee Aki. These guys were good enough to be All Blacks, but they had a line of people in front of them, and they've taken their opportunity. To say they weren't good enough is a bit harsh."

Mils Muliaina, who played 100 times for the All Blacks feels the trio would not have made the breakthrough - citing the fact that they were never picked when available.

He did, however, praise the players for the "brave" decision to leave their home country to play rugby over 10,000 miles away.

"They probably wouldn't have been All Blacks - they weren't," he said bluntly.

"They were at a stage where guys in front of them were a lot better than them. You have to remember that these guys want to be All Blacks. When you make a decision to not do that, because people are in front of you, and you go over there [to Ireland], that's a brave decision."

He added that the trio will all now be "heroes" in Ireland and any controversy around the residency rule and eligibility will be very much in the background now that they proved themselves on the big stage.

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