Gareth Ellis – Where should we draw the line on who can play for England?

Warrington Wolves' Blake Austin.
Warrington Wolves' Blake Austin.
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I REALLY don’t know where I stand on this issue of selecting Australian players for England.

The subject has come up again given Blake Austin’s inclusion in the latest England Elite Performance squad. Obviously, the Warrington Wolves stand-off is Australian.

England head coach, Wayne Bennett. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

England head coach, Wayne Bennett. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

But he qualifies through an English grandparent and could end up playing for Great Britain this autumn and England as they build to the 2021 World Cup.

I’ve really been pondering it over and it is such a tricky area. The patriotic side of me kicks in and I do think let’s have real English born and bred players playing for England.

But then I think about all the other sports that do it and use ‘heritage’ players in this way.

On the back of that, I’ve not heard any England cricket fans mention how Ben Stokes is from New Zealand yet he has just won a World Cup with England.

I’m a bit torn between what’s right and wrong but, ultimately, having not had much success at the international level, it would be nice to see us finally have some.

Gareth Ellis

There are plenty of overseas players playing for England rugby union’s side – Manu Tuilagi, the Vunipola brothers – and no one really mentions that either.

We have our own history of it as well in rugby league. It seems, then, that it is done in a lot of other sports yet we always have an issue with it. I’m not sure why that is.

My main criticism, though, is would they really be putting themselves forward if they had a chance of playing for Australia? For me, that’s where the argument is.

I think of my son Issac as English. But he was actually born in Australia when I was playing out there for Wests Tigers.

Rangi Chase, in action for England against Italy in October 2013.

Rangi Chase, in action for England against Italy in October 2013.

I dread to think about him ever pulling on an Australia shirt! I’m slightly torn on where you draw the line and that’s the big question.

We have had Rangi (Chase) play for us before with England and, before that Maurie Fa’asavalu with Great Britain and England. I played alongside them both. At the time, my thoughts were probably similar to what they are now.

I was thinking is there not someone who’s eligible to play who is as good as they are?

But if we go on and win the World Cup and Blake Austin is the star man would people really be putting a downer on it?

Gareth Hock, in action for England. Picture: Gareth Copley/PA

Gareth Hock, in action for England. Picture: Gareth Copley/PA

I’m a bit torn between what’s right and wrong but, ultimately, having not had much success at the international level, it would be nice to see us finally have some.

When Rangi was brought in, back in 2011, he was seen as the best half-back in Super League and you could say the same about Blake Austin now.

That’s probably why he’s been picked; he’s probably the best stand-off in the competition at the minute.

He’s put his hand up for England and maybe with Wayne Bennett being Australian, the coach probably doesn’t see it as being a big deal as obviously it happens for Australia.

They have had plenty of Kiwis and Tongans in their side.

James Tamou played Junior Kiwis before playing for Australia. Benji Marshall did it the other way; he played Junior Kangaroos before playing for the Kiwis.

It happens a lot and when you look through the Australian players I imagine quite a lot have some English heritage.

But would they choose England over Australia if given the chance?

I’d probably say ‘no’ they wouldn’t; if Blake Austin got a chance to play for Australia I’m sure he’d play for Australia.

As for my lad, I’m not sure what I’ll say to him if this ever comes up at all in his future further down the line. I don’t know where he stands on it all.

Even though he was born in Australia, he couldn’t get an Australian passport as we were only temporary residents.

We got plenty of stick. Dave Trodden, who’s New South Wales Rugby League chief executive and a good friend of the family, is adamant that Issac is Austraian! When the lads say to me I have an Australian son I just say ‘No. No chance.’

So, with this debate now, it’s a real tough one to have a real definitive view. But I want England to be successful first and foremost.

On the subject of England, Gareth Hock announced his retirement last week. I played with him for England and GB, including that night the Lions beat Australia in Sydney in 2006.

Our careers have almost been side by side. He was just a couple of years after me and what a talent. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but he probably never fulfilled the full potential he had; on his day he was the best back-rower in Super League.

With that in mind, I was really surprised to see he had only played five times for England and something like four for Great Britain, When I read that it did surprise me as Gaz did seem to be around for a lot more than that.

He’s had his ups and downs with behavioural stuff but I do think he’ll be remembered for the right reasons – as a great back-rower.

We had some real tough battles together. I’ve always played my career – particularly when I was in the back-row – looking at my opposite number thinking I’ve got to get over him.

Whether it was here in Super League or the NRL, I always thought for our side to do well I had to dominate the one I was up against.

Gaz was someone who posed a massive, massive challenge for me every time. Having him on my team, whether with England or Great Britain, knowing how destructive he could be as a ball runner, was certainly far better than playing against him.