Brad Shields selection both confounds and delights

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Brad Shields selection both confounds and delights
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 13: Brad Shields of the Hurricanes looks on during a Hurricanes Super Rugby training session at Rugby League Park on February 13, 2018 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

When Brad Shields’ name was listed late last week, in the England Rugby tour squad to South Africa, it both confounded some and brought delight to others. The New Zealand born and raised player is yet to play a match in the UK, yet Eddie Jones penned his name as soon as clearance was given by New Zealand Rugby.

Many who know Brad Shields are delighted. His coach Chris Boyd, his team mates and many admirers in New Zealand and around the rugby world have said it is a best outcome for a player, overlooked for too long.

Some still confounded, due to his nationality – which is still listed as New Zealand. Unprecedented, due to the eligibility conversation, where Jones has made it clear that ‘he is listed as an Premiership player, signed for Wasps and is eligible to be selected’.

“The message it sends is not my responsibility. My responsibility is to pick England-qualified players. I get a list and I pick the best from that. I don’t decide the regulations.”

True, yet it confounds the realm of natural selection by performance. That performance is within the competition from other players, in that regional competition. Argue as you like that Brad Shields has performed in Super Rugby. But that is approximately 18,880 kilometers from London.

Brad Shields selection both confounds and delights

The two arguments will be discussed across both hemispheres. England Rugby fans in the UK and abroad, will be delighted that a player of the skill level of Brad Shields could finally play International rugby.

None more so than supporters of the man himself. They have wondered aloud, why the New Zealand selectors had never chosen him for a squad – Brad Shields has been included in wider All Blacks training days. He has worn the silver fern for the ‘Baby Blacks’ and won the Junior World Championship, in Under 20 age grade.

But he was never nominated for a Test, a touring squad or for the end of year tour. And by the time in 2016 that any interest was made from the New Zealand selectors (due to injury) the player had already been far enough into discussions with a Premiership Rugby side, that he declined the offer.

But his fans at the Hurricanes, for his club Petone, and his school Taita College. They have wondered, like so many, if he would get an chance on the International stage. So the inclusion in the England Rugby squad is now the opportunity the Kiwi and International fans have been calling for.

Note: New Zealand Rugby only cleared Shields to play on Wednesday, just 24 hours before the players name was confirmed by Eddie Jones

He was asked by media how his parents had reacted. They were pleased of course; both his parents were born in England, and relations and friends had all sent him well wishes. Those positives will be required, because as many people who are delighted and proud of his call-up, there are others who will not be so.

The argument ‘against’ will continue to follow Brad Shields

The question put to Brad Shields on Friday was apt. How will you feel when you meet the other squad members for the first time? It was qualified, by the Newshub reporter saying that English squad members he meets, might well know guys whom will not have been selected; because of Shields’ selection. Asked how he will feel in that atmosphere, Shields answered “I guess it’s a pretty sticky situation. I think it’s how you play on the footy field, you earn respect by playing well.

“I just gotta make sure I put my head down and go to work”.

Team mates reaction aside, social media has – and will continue to no doubt – given many people a voice. If not read or heard by the player, it has been spread wide. You can simply do a search, and a multitude of statements (like below) can be found.

The UK newspapers and media will cover the developments on tour. Reporters will be present, and the South African media will be focused on the tour, and on the player. If Shields felt slightly uncomfortable taking the limelight after an Hurricanes match, then he will also be focused on when he is available to speak to media in South Africa.

It might be a case that he is protected, and not made available – but that might inflame the situation. So England Rugby might be proactive, and allow him to speak with reporters. But one can imagine the questions that are against his selection over other players.

If Shields can bare that intense coverage, and focus on putting his best foot forward, then he might best let his actions speak louder than his words.

Brad Shields aiming for the highest honours he can achieve

“I’m pretty excited but I’ve still got my Hurricanes jersey on for the next few weeks. I’m very excited with how things are going, but first things first [Super Rugby].”

And as well as his supporters, that includes head coach Chris Boyd and his England Rugby selector Eddie Jones, there will be doubters. They might prefer that Chris Robshaw is picked for the first test in South Africa. And Brad Shields is mature enough to know that he might not get one test, and any time in the England match-day squad.

But up until the day that he is awarded the famed white jersey of England, he will be the only Hurricanes rugby player to have played 100 caps [which he should achieve in three weeks time] to never have played for the All Blacks. That’s an example of how much he invested first, how long he took to display his ability, before getting an opportunity.

And it was those displays that have ultimately seen him judged as a candidate for International rugby by England, rather than his birthplace of New Zealand.

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The England Rugby tour of South Africa starts on June 2, and Brad Shields is likely to be available for Wasps Rugby pre-season training once his commitments to the Hurricanes is completed [the Super Rugby grand final is scheduled for August 4].

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