Rugby is one of the world’s most inclusive sports. Be you short or tall, small or large, there’s likely to be a role for you somewhere on the team.
Rugby’s inclusivity doesn’t just extend to a person’s build but also their nationality, with international sides happy to adopt anyone if they can aid their cause.
And rugby’s governing body has made it easy for players to swap one nation for another, either via a relative or through a period of residency. The detractors would argue national teams shouldn’t be allowed to pick and choose who they like from the global population but if it benefits the game as a whole, what’s the problem?
Rugby fans have been enthralled by the ongoing Six Nations championship, which this year features over 70 players who aren’t playing for their country of birth. The standard of rugby has improved as a result of these quality imports and some of those involved are on the path to becoming icons, or have already achieved that status.
Davies and Faletau Proudly Fly Wales Flag
Centre Jonathan Davies and back-row Taulupe Faletau are amongst those to have cemented their hero status having been vital members of the Wales team for well over a decade. The duo have helped Wales win four Six Nations titles since their respective debuts, with Solihull-born Davies having been on the scene slightly longer than Faletau. Davies, who qualifies for Wales through his parents, won his 96th cap in Friday’s clash with France and is the most capped foreign-born player competing in this year’s Six Nations.
For Faletau, the son of a former Tonga international, he moved from the Pacific Island nation to Wales in 1997 when his father Kuli joined Ebbw Vale, coming through the Welsh rugby system as a youngster.
The cousin of England duo Mako and Billy Vunipola, Faletau is the third most-capped member of the current Wales squad having made 88 appearances. Davies and Faletau are the two headline imports in the Wales squad but prop Tomas Francis (64 caps) and wing Alex Cuthbert (51 caps) have also done well for the Welsh after being born in England.
Scotland Yet to Reap Rewards of Imports
Wales named 13 foreign-born players in their initial Six Nations squad, not an insignificant number but one that pales when compared to Scotland’s collection of 27. The majority were born in England and qualify via a parent or grandparent, including scrum-half Ali Price, who has 49 caps to his name.
He’s fast catching up with wing Sean Maitland, the most capped foreign-born member of the squad, who is stuck on 53 caps having been cast to the fringes of Gregor Townsend’s plans. Price, Hamish Watson (47) and prop WP Nel (46) could overtake Maitland shortly, although the latter, who is South African-born, is approaching the autumn of his career at 35. Scotland have certainly improved as a result of bringing in numerous non-national players, although their 22-year wait for a first Six Nations title goes on.
Ireland Cherry Pick Talent
Italy, much like Scotland, have needed to cast the net far and wide to improve their squad given the small pool they are choosing from at home. The most-capped member of this current Italy squad, Braam Steyn (48 caps), played for South Africa’s Under-20s before swapping allegiances to the Azzurri.
While Italy and Scotland have happily welcomed in everyone, Ireland have been able to be more selective when looking abroad. They added Mack Hansen, a former Australia Under-20 international with an Irish mother, to the squad this year and he’s caught the eye, as have several other imports.
Bundee Aki (35 caps) has proven an excellent addition to the Ireland team since he qualified on residency grounds in 2017, while Jamison Gibson-Park is establishing himself at scrum-half (15 caps) after edging out Connor Murray for the position.
England and France Happy to Stick with Homegrown Talent
With the biggest pools to select from, it’s no surprise England and France have the fewest foreign-born players in their squads. England are missing their most high profile in Samoan-born centre Manu Tuilagi, with Marcus Smith, who was born in the Philippines and cut his rugby teeth playing in Singapore, inheriting that mantle. Smith looks to be England’s first-choice fly-half for the foreseeable future and will no doubt add many more caps to the eight he has.
France have four foreign-born players amongst their ranks but they are some of the most experienced members of the squad, with lock Bernard Le Roux having won the second highest number of caps (47) behind only Gael Fickou (69).
A little further back is the New Zealand-born former Samoa U20 prop Uini Atonio, who won his 43rd cap against Wales, with South African native Paul Willemse making his 23rd appearance in that same game.