Steve Thompson, speaking exclusively to 888sport, has protested stridently against the current international residency rules. The 73 cap ex-England hooker, and a key member of the 2003 World Cup winning campaign, has expressed his dissatisfaction with the current system.
However, not only did Thompson, echoing the views of a number of ex-internationals, such as Luke Fitzgerald and Danny Care, suggest that the residency rules need changing, but he also stated that only English coaches should be appointed to the role of Head Coach.
Thompson began, “I think it’s a joke that they’re doing that. You’ve got the Toner one in Ireland where the bloke (South Africa-born Jean Kleyn) has qualified four days before the first warm-up game. It’s just a joke. You can’t just come in like it’s a club side. This is an international side where you should be proud to play for your country.”
“So, I agree with Danny Care’s comments. I don’t agree that players should be able to swap just because they’ve lived somewhere for three years.”
Residency is proving a controversial issue at the moment, what with the increasing prevalence of so called ‘project’ players, (like Kleyn, Bundee Aki and CJ Stander) brought in from abroad specifically to fill gaps in national squads. However, the problem is not as clear cut as may initially be apparent.
Where do you draw the line? If we accept Manu Tuilagi’s right to play for England, based on the fact he has lived here since he was a child, then are we to deny CJ Stander’s right to play for Ireland, the country he and his family have made their home?
Likewise, is it really positive to be cynical about the attachment, or lack thereof, of players such as Gareth Anscombe and Brad Shields to their parents’ homeland? Do they not have a right to play for the nation of their family? In an increasingly globalised world, it is impossible to be certain in cases such as these.
Whilst Thompson’s scepticism about the regulations surrounding international qualification is shared by many, he also went on to controversially suggest Eddie Jones’ Australian background should disqualify him from taking the top role in English rugby, a far less fashionable opinion.
“I still think it’s a bit of a joke that Eddie Jones is the coach of England. By all means bring specialist coaches underneath but the actual main coach of England – the biggest union in the world – should be an Englishman.”
Not only did Thompson find fault with Jones’ nationality, however, but also his ability as a coach.
“People talk about his achievements, but he hasn’t won that much really. He’s also known for doing runners when the going gets tough. I thought he was going to do a runner when the wheels fell off with England.”
Ultimately, should Eddie Jones bring World Cup success to England, any doubts about his loyalty, suitability and quality will surely fizzle away. Fail to do so, and their will be clamour for him to be sacked.
However, should England fail to succeed this summer, people like Thompson will be vindicated in their critique of the Australian. Top level English coaches, such as Rob Baxter (who has of course committed his long term future to Exeter), would then surely be at the top of the RFU’s wanted list for the next World Cup cycle. It must be noted that this is a path, selecting only home grown coaches, that has been persistently pursued by the French, without a great deal of success.
Ultimately, Thompson’s views form part of an increasingly fraught debate about who it is international players, and coaches, are really representing. Fans are naturally perturbed by the fact that some players seem willing to play international rugby for whoever will take them.
With coaches it is less clear cut, they themselves do not claim to be representing the nation. Either way, you suspect that only winning the World Cup will silence Eddie Jones’ doubters, amongst whom Steve Thompson seems the most vocal.
Read the full 888sport interview with Steve Thompson here, including his thoughts on why South Africa will win the World Cup
(Image: The Telegraph)
Written by Joe Ronan