At the last official count two years ago, England had 2,057,797 rugby players, almost 50 percent more than the rest of Europe combined.
How ironic, therefore, that they still felt the need to rope in a latter-day Marco Polo straight off the streets of Dublin.
With the champions floundering and time at Twickenham running out, Ben Te’o shot off the bench and turned his first touch into the winner 96 seconds later.
Te’o can lay claim to almost as many nations as the tournament itself.
Te’o is a New Zealander who first made a name for himself in Australia. He has played for Samoa, for Leinster when Ireland’s foreign office hoped he would end up wearing the green and now for England, via Worcester.
He started out in Rugby League as a Junior Kiwi, played for Samoa in the XXIII World Cup, joined the Australia squad as a budding Kangaroo before turning into a Rabbitoh with South Sydney.
Three State of Origin titles with Queensland took some achieving, not least because he was born in Auckland to a Samoan father and English mother. That’s not the half of it.
In the summer of 2014 Leinster signed him as an IRFU project player with a view to his succeeding Brian O’Driscoll for country as well as province. Before Te’o could get far, England came along offering an immediate route into the Test arena through his English mum.
Around that time he talked to Michael Cheika and Matt O’Connor, both ex- Leinster coaches, about becoming a Wallaby only to realise that would take him another three years by which time he would be 32 and probably past it.
On the face of it, Te’o’s reinvention as a legitimate Red Rose import makes the nationality rules look even more absurd.
The Union rule that nobody can play for more than one country begs a question: How come Te’o can play for Samoa and England?
Because Rugby Union considers Rugby League a separate sport and by extension refuses, in it traditionally superior way, to recognise their capped players. All very convenient.
As Te’o told the Examiner on arrival in Ireland: “I don’t even know the rules or how the eligibility works. I’m open to a lot of things.”
He wasn’t wrong there, even if it meant risking a national identity crisis.
Having decided the fields were greener in England, Big Ben chimed in on cue to keep the holders on course for a 19 th straight win next month in Dublin and a world record. Now that he has upped England’s vast rugby playing population by one to 2,057,798, the least they could do is give him what Marco Polo never had, a new sat nav…
Vern smiles as cubs set to become Lions
Scottish Lions have become such an endangered species that they are almost as thin on the ground as the West African gorilla, the leatherback sea turtle, and the ivory-billed woodpecker. Conservationists will have spent the weekend rejoicing.
Joe Schmidt is unlikely to be one of them, on the reasonable basis that he and his Ireland team have already done their unwitting best for the World Wildlife Fund.
Any opponent responsible for contributing towards cracking a smile on Vern Cotter’s stony face knows they have seriously underachieved.
The usually deadpan Kiwi treated the faithful to something more historic than Ireland taking the Six Nations’ first bonus point, a return so miserable that it explained why they left looking as if they’d each lost a €50 note and found a fiver.
Cotter did something nobody could recall seeing him do before. He smiled — and no wonder. In doing themselves and the tournament a mighty favour, Scotland delivered a triumph for guts, guile, and ploys from so far left field that Ireland never saw them coming.
More of the same, starting in Paris next weekend, and the Lions will be positively crawling with Scots in New Zealand this summer. Only three have made the original squads for each of the last four tours with Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, and Richie Gray the most recent trio.
Suddenly a lengthy queue is forming behind them. Gray’s ‘wee’ brother, Jonny, is a certainty and others like Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw, Zander Fagerson, Ross Ford, Ryan Wilson, John Barclay, and Tommy Seymour, are demanding to be taken seriously.
After almost two decades, Scotland have declared themselves to be in contention for something other than the wooden spoon.
And those Irish fans blessed with generosity of spirit will acknowledge that as a little silver lining to the dirtiest cloud they’ve seen for a while.
What Jim Telfer really meant to say...
After watching England’s laborious opening title defence, Jim Telfer must be sorely attempting to revise his wave-making view that Eddie Jones talks “a bit like Donald Trump”.
The most granite of Scots, his capacity for provocation undimmed by retirement, may have got it slightly wrong, that what he meant to say was that England looked as if they were coached by the presidential son of a wee lassie from the Outer Hebrides, Mary Macleod.
The idea of attaching occupants of the Oval Office could be extended. Ireland’s loss of one plot after the other suggested that Joe Schmidt had morphed into Ronald Reagan on a bad day.
Scotland were so smart that the question has to be asked: Is someone in their camp a descendant of Abraham Lincoln?
Straight talk from Gardner a big hit
Angus Gardner, a fair-dinkum Aussie who went to the same Anglican Church grammar school in Sydney as Hollywood hell-raiser Errol Flynn, does not mince his words just because he is wired up for sound. His warning to rival hookers Dylan Hartley and Guilhem Guirado during the England-France match came over loud and clear — “Come here, you two. Don’t start playing silly buggers now.’’
At the risk of provoking the politically correct, how reassuring to hear some old- school language. No offence intended, none taken, no apology necessary.
A different kind of ice to celebrate Wales win
Conor O’Shea had called for “a great, great performance” from Italy in a sodden Rome yesterday which may have explained the serried rows of empty seats. He got one great performance instead, the customary one from Sergio Parisse. It failed to stop an apprehensive Wales securing their equally customary win even if it took them more than an hour’s hard labour to show O’Shea that talking a good game is one thing, backing it up an entirely different matter. With England at Cardiff on Saturday uppermost in their mind, Wales forked out £40,000 (€46,300) for an aircraft to take their players home and straight into the cryotherapy chamber. Who wants a night on the town when there’s an ice bath to jump into at two in the morning.
Team of the weekend
(aka Scotland and the rest)
15 S Hogg (Scotland), 14 S Maitland (Scotland), 13 B Te’o (England), 12 A Dunbar (Scotland), 11 G North (Wales), 10 F Russell (Scotland), 9 G Laidlaw (Scotland); 1 J McGrath (Ireland), 2 G Guirado (France), 3 T Furlong (Ireland), 4 R Gray (Scotland), 5 J Gray (Scotland), 6 S Warburton (Wales), 7 J Barclay (Scotland), 8 L Picamoles (France).
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