Leinster’s rugby league convert Ben Te’o is undecided as to whether he will remain in union beyond his current deal — and possibly strive to qualify for Ireland — or if he will be lured back by the 13-man code.
The former South Sydney Rabbitoh, who played alongside Bath’s Ben Sturgess in Australia, endured a difficult start to life in Dublin when he broke an arm 20 minutes into his provincial debut against Edinburgh in October.
It was January before he was back on the pitch, but his form has improved steadily since and he has bagged four tries in his last seven games as he comes to grips with the nuances of the other rugby code.
Te’o signed a two-year contract, which means he would have to play another season again before becoming eligible for the Ireland squad, but he is keeping an open mind as to his next career move.
“I haven’t even thought about that,” he said ahead of Leinster’s last Pro12 game of the season, away to Edinburgh, on Saturday. “I don’t even know the rules or how the eligibility works. I have to see. I’m open to a lot of things.
"If I’m good enough, I would love to play. Everyone wants to play in the big games and the international scene is the biggest in rugby. You’d love to do it. If someone thinks you’re good enough to do it, then why not?”
Such a response will hardly endear him to those who believe the integrity of Test rugby is being diluted by too many cross-border operators with little or no ties of allegiance, but it was an honest response to a straightforward question.
Protestations of love for all things green would surely be more difficult to swallow at this stage and, as a 28-year old who played three times for Queensland in the fabled State of Origins series, he would still find suitors in his previous stomping ground.
Whether he would retread that old ground is another thing.
“I would watch a little bit of rugby league now and then just to see how the game is going,” he said this week. “It’s probably a hard choice. Sometimes I look at it and think ‘oh, I would like to play that again’.
"Then sometimes I think ‘no, I actually enjoy what I am doing now’. I’ll probably take it contract by contract and whatever is good for me at the time I will just do it. I don’t know if I will go back to league or not. I am quite enjoying union.”
There have been challenges. Leinster’s stutters can’t have helped the assimilation process and the chop-and-change nature of the union season in Europe, allied to the comings and goings of key Irish players, has taken some getting used to.
Yet his form of late has been one of the few encouraging embers to survive amidst the ashes of Leinster’s season and he sounds positively ravenous for the grind of pre-season when he can focus on areas that will aid his conversion further.
“Once you’ve played some games, you know yourself and you think ‘this is where I can find some improvement in the off-season’. I can change my body a bit, work on some aspects to my game.”
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