Friday, 5 June 2015

Brendan Gallagher's latest ill thought out attack on New Zealand

A rebuttal to those such as journalist Brendan Gallagher who have been all wrong when slamming New Zealand for their U20 selection.

When the recent New Zealand U20 squad included three players (Nathaniel Apa, Henry Stowers and Luteru Laulala) who had previously represented Samoa the previous year; the usual suspects leapt to launch rants against the Kiwis on the basis of them 'poaching'.

Brendan Gallagher, formerly of the Daily Telegraph now of The Rugby Paper is one such journalist who has been particularly prominent on the matter for years. Unfortunately the rants on Twitter and his column that were forthcoming were utterly ill thought out.
Brendan Gallagher

The first absurd comment from Gallagher's tweets lately regards two of players not having made the squad last year after having had trials. He seems to think they weren't rated at all because of this. 'Didn't rate them, didn't want them' and 'told them to buzz off' was how it was put.

An idea that is completely inaccurate, and a failure on Gallagher's part to understand the elementary point as to how an age grade squad will evolve and be selected each year.

Last year all three players were U19s, a year behind many of the players they were competing with for selection in experience and maturity. It's a rather obvious point that the majority of U20 squads are made of players in their final year of eligibility, with only a few younger players getting through. A vast number of the players in the tournament will not have been selected for the squads last year.

Not getting selected a year young for an U20 side with as much depth of New Zealand is no mark of a player who's 'not rated'. Maro Itoje wasn't selected for England's U20 squad a year young in 2013. That didn't mean England 'didn't rate' him or that he was told 'to buzz off', far from it in fact. Neither did any of Joe Launchbury, Toby Faletau, Michael Hooper or Eben Etzebeth make their respective national team's U20 squad a year young either.

The idea that a player is 'not rated' because they don't make an U20 team a year young is ludicrous. For example, this year out of a 28 man squad, only 2 players in the New Zealand squad are born 1996. In England's squad it's 4 players. Not too many players in strong depth nations make the side a year young.

On the contrary, it actually showed how highly rated those players were that they made it as near to the squad as they did in a country with as much depth as New Zealand whilst still being a year young.

The vast majority of New Zealand's squad this year would have missed out on selection last year. The difference was not all were dual qualified to play for a country that is very closely connected rugby wise. Samoa actually came to New Zealand to hold trials for those dual qualified players of heritage or birth which represents a considerable chunk of Samoa's eligible player base.

Gallagher also has the idea that they were only now selected for New Zealand U20 after excelling in last year's tournament. That's also not true.

As stated previously, contrary to what Gallagher has said they were actually clearly very highly rated and on the New Zealand selectors radar to make it near the Under 20 squad in 2014 a year young in the first place. Plus were well known to the system having gone up the ranks through New Zealand schools, and now experienced ITM Cup rugby.

They would have been in prime position to fill the positions left by most of last year’s squad no longer being eligible, regardless of whether they had played for Samoa last year.

To say New Zealand are 'suddenly all over them' simply because they played for Samoa is just so far from the truth. It's not 'sudden' if the players had been on the radar for years, right from schools.
Samoa U20 would be made weaker
if Gallagher had his way as they
would lose numerous players.

Gallagher's failure to understand the situation is best summed up by his suggestion that in turn actually weakens the Samoan Under 20 team, and would be opposed by their coaches. On Twitter that players ‘shd never be allowed to switch countries in the same age group, end of’.

New Zealand would not be effected whatsoever by such a ruling. Samoa on the other hand would though.

All three of those players in the New Zealand squad this year simply would not have played for Samoa last year. Not just those players either, but other players hoping to make the New Zealand squad the following year would hold off, and Samoa would miss out on them even if they didn't make the New Zealand team after all.

Such a ruling would clearly put a dent in Samoa's prospects of attracting eligible players in New Zealand, which  as said before represented 20 of their 28 man squad last year.

Gallagher also was incorrect stating that Samoa's second nominated team is their Sevens team. Which is not quite true.

Every nation has three teams that lock eligibility. A senior XVs team, a second nominated XVs team, and a 7s team. In Samoa's case, their 'second nominated team' is their 'A' team, which featured in the Pacific Challenge last March.

Samoa would actually be quite free and within their rights to alter that and make sure no player who plays for them at U20 plays for anyone else, by doing as Wales, France and South Africa have all done and nominating the U20's as the second team.

However they don't do that and with good reason. As if they did, it would leave their U20's utterly decimated, with the majority of the players (many of course who are from New Zealand) not wanting to commit eligibility so soon into their careers. 

For example, just a look at an interview with two of the Samoan squad, Jordan Jackett and Elia Elia, before the tournament and it gives an indication of they way they and several others may be thinking.

Elia, from Canterbury University, is playing the tournament a year young and will still be eligible for the tournament next year, where he says he hopes to play for New Zealand.

Under Gallagher's proposed rule, he may not actually make the New Zealand side next year of course, but you can guarantee Samoa U20 would have missed out on him playing for them this year so he could keep his ambition a possibility.

If the Samoan selectors were actually against the rules as they are could easily just not pick Elia, who's been open with his ambitions. But they won't, as they really would not be happy at the rules being altered as Gallagher suggests that would hinder the side so much.

Despite Gallagher attempting to make out that New Zealand are the bad guys here and cherry picking off Samoa. The reality is they are cherry picking talent from their own country and their own development system, which of course is reasonable. Whilst Samoa are also free to use players from the New Zealand development system where available, many of which proud to represent them. 

New Zealand themselves could easily stop players like the three in question playing for Samoa by implementing the rule Gallagher suggests that if you play for Samoa you can't come back and play for them, Gallagher is essentially criticising them for allowing the players to represent both at junior level freely.

Finally, Gallagher states 'no other country wd do that to teenagers' in regard to selecting youngsters who've also represented a different nation and that New Zealand is 'messed up' for doing so. Which is simply not true. Off the top of my head Australia U20 have Fereti Sa'aga in their squad who also played for Samoa in last year's tournament. England U20 also picked Kieran Brookes after representing Ireland U20 first. Plus there's been various other switches between age groups, again England for instance have two Irish U18 internationals in their squad.


  1. thank you for you work. allways a pleasure to read your articles. good text again.

  2. Great work, add Filimoni Savou to your list...Fijian-born, scholarship in England, played England U17, represented Fiji at U20 and wants to don the England shirt at senior mens level in the future.