Brad Shields considered to play for England during June Internationals

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WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 27: Brad Shields of the Hurricanes is tackled by Greig Laidlaw of the Lions during the match between the Hurricanes and the British & Irish Lions at Westpac Stadium on June 27, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The idea that New Zealand born flanker Brad Shields could play for England, in the June Internationals, has highlighted an issue which few perceived  (when Shields chose to sign for Wasps). In so much that the connotation was that he might be considered later. And now that England Rugby have broached the topic, contractual responsibilities by the player restrict his potential to be involved.

A valid point is that it would be an incredible leap by England rugby coach Eddie Jones to even consider starting a player who ‘has yet to step foot onto an English rugby ground’. So some will assume that it is out of a need, more so then a planned action.

What is clear, was the initial sense of alarm from New Zealand Rugby, explaining that Shields would not be afforded any release from his contract – as they quite rightly were his employer.

While World Rugby may prose that all players be available in June for International selection, what many have wondered is what has Shields done to earn the consideration of replacing a man who currently laces his boots in England? Why does a Kiwi gain a place in the squad over others?

Plenty of questions, on the proposition – Scott Hornell raises several points below.

Brad Shields will not play for England during June Internationals

Reported in the Guardian sports columns, the inference was that Eddie Jones had ‘sought [and was given] permission to include the Wellington Hurricanes skipper into his squad for the South Africa v England test series – starting June 2.

If that were accurate, then it is a ‘kick in the guts’ for those men in English rugby, whom Shields would eliminate from representing their country. If not unfair, then irresponsible, to create such unprecedented conditions.

Unprecedented, in so far that Shields has never represented an UK-based team. While being signed for Wasps, and having British born parents, he is far removed from English rugby. Piers Francis was selected in 2017, for the England tour of Argentina. But Francis was born in Kent. He was a member of the Saracens Academy, before emigrating to New Zealand.

Unjustified consideration for England Squad, or not?

Brad Shields has played Wellington rugby since he was a boy. A representative of that union, and the Super Rugby franchise based in Wellington. In his late teens, he represented New Zealand in the Junior/Under 20s World Championship; when that side won the 2011 title.

That, and his on-going performances in Super Rugby are credible indications that he is a quality rugby player. And in signing with Wasps, he has realized that at 27, he is unlikely to push his way into the All Blacks.

But his possible England Rugby selection was always thought of as after he was afforded time to ‘integrate’ into the system in the Northern Hemisphere. The recent news is a surprise, and to some degree, unjustified.

However, several commentators have put forward arguments, such as:

  • He has English bloodline
  • Shields will bring his Super Rugby form
  • He was going to be selected in November anyway
  • Why not? If Brad Shields agrees, and is willing to play
  • World Rugby dictate that eligible players be available

Obviously, the player himself must be engaged, to judge if he is willing to participate. Naming somebody, and then getting the best out of them are two different things. Fitness testing aside, he is reported to be eager to run about in an English training jersey [no guarantee of a Test place].

Brad Shields asks for Contract Release with New Zealand Rugby

In response to questions at the NZR annual general assembly on Thursday, and then new developments on Friday morning, chief executive Steve Tew told media “It is a work in progress. We have only just, I think this morning, got a formal request to consider releasing Brad.”

“He [Shields] is contracted to New Zealand to the end of Super Rugby. And so World Rugby regulations don’t apply per se. He has committed himself to New Zealand, but he, as a long-standing and loyal servant of the game, has put a request in.

Brad Shields
Jack Stratton, Alex Ainley, Culum Retallick, and Brad Shields during a Mitre 10 Cup media opportunity on October 25, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by All Blacks Collection/Getty Images)

“The form has only arrived in the building this morning. We are considering what the ramifications would be of releasing him to play for England in the middle of a competition we are committed to. We have not made any decision yet,” Tew was quoted in stuff.co.nz.

While this formalizes the process, much conjecture surrounds the benefits and impact on current and future player actions. The point being, that his decision in November had no indication that England Rugby (RFU) would be pursuing the player so early.

It seems that even the rugby media in Britain had assumed Shields would be picked nearer to the end of the [Super Rugby] season. The Telegraph said “England have long been aware that the 26-year-old qualifies to play for  them through his parents, which means he could be fast-tracked into the  England squad at the start of next season if Eddie Jones chooses to select him.”

Negative connotations may surround Brad Shields selection

By rights, that would be the judicious process. To integrate Shields, once he is on the ground. Due diligence you might call it, but certainly time to qualify – so that there are no negative connotations to the matter. He may be seen as a ‘mercenary’ by some quarters, and that is only a natural reaction.

If a player like Sam Simmonds or Nathan Hughes, or even Chris Robshaw were omitted from the England touring party to South Africa, how will that be reported? It might be justified due to his superior skillset, or by way of ‘blooding’ a potential Rugby World Cup player, but it would also throw a shadow over the potential of the wealth of English loose forwards – if they felt he was picked above themselves.

Possibly by necessity, Eddie Jones and RFU may require his services – but up to this date, he is contracted to New Zealand Rugby.

And if the cool relationship between the two most powerful rugby unions continues, one can’t see this ending in a peaceful gentleman’s agreement.

“Main photo credit”
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