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James Haskell urges World Rugby into rethink on captured status for players in international limbo


James Haskell urges World Rugby into rethink on captured status for players stuck in international limbo as he insists it’s ‘brilliant’ that Billy Burns can play for Ireland at Twickenham despite England youth development

  • England host Ireland at Twickenham in the Autumn Nations Cup on Saturday
  • The match will see English-born fly-half Billy Burns play for Ireland
  • The 26-year-old spent his youth career with England’s Under 18s and Under 20s
  • However, he qualified to play for Ireland through his Cork-born grandfather

James Haskell has called on World Rugby to change their stance on captured players, as he wants to see more players to get the opportunity afforded to Billy Burns on Saturday afternoon when the former England Junior international takes to the bench for Ireland.

Burns spent his youth career with England’s Under 18s and Under 20s, before being selected to represent Ireland by virtue of his Cork-born grandfather, making his debut last weekend against Wales.

The 26-year-old avoided captured status with England having never represented the Saxons or the full national side, but there is growing clamour to have eligibility reformed.

Ireland fly-half Billy Burns will face England despite having played for the latter's youth teams

Ireland fly-half Billy Burns will face England despite having played for the latter’s youth teams

Bristol Bears full back Charles Piutau has stated his desire to play Tonga, but cannot after earning 15 caps for New Zealand – the last of which he won in 2015.

In the UK, Steven Shingler was stopped from playing for Scotland in 2012 on account of having been capped at youth level for Wales, and England’s Nick Abendanon has never pulled on an international jersey since 2007, despite being eligible for South Africa, Holland and France under residency rules.

With international status still the pinnacle in rugby, Haskell argues that it is time for a rethink to the status quo.

‘Everybody plays sport to play at the best level and international level is the best level,’ said Haskell, who will join Channel 4’s live coverage of Saturday’s clash at Twickenham. ‘If one team doesn’t want you, 100 per cent go and play for the other one.’

‘I think it’s brilliant, I’m excited for him [Billy Burns] to get that opportunity to play international rugby.

‘I’m actually a believer that if you only have one or two caps for a team and you’re never going to play for them again, you should be able to turn that over and go and play.

‘Look at some of the All Blacks who don’t play for New Zealand any more who could go back and play for Samoa, Tonga.

‘I think it should be changed and looked at. It’s tactical stuff getting players in, giving them one cap and it doesn’t work out and they’re never seen again. I think we should look into that and let people rescind that.

‘I know people who have played for Bahrain, in Dubai, and all these kind of countries because they want to play international rugby and I genuinely have no problem with it.

‘We don’t have a Ronaldo – I don’t think allowing people to swap over is going to make any difference.’

What will make a difference for Eddie Jones’ side this weekend is the lack of a home crowd roaring England on at Twickenham.

It is a factor that Haskell believes limits home advantage on Saturday afternoon, and the former Red Rose international is hoping lessons will be learnt going into the Six Nations at the beginning of next year.

‘At Twickenham, normally we would have home advantage, but I think we can all agree rugby without crowds is just toilet in general,’ he said.

‘It’s just a lifeless game without a crowd. If I was playing I’d really struggle without a crowd.

‘The opportunity to play for your country is an honour, it’s just a shame that you don’t get to play in front of a big crowd, because that’s part of the magic – that’s why you do it.

‘We should have had crowds back in earlier I feel – as soon as they allowed people back into pubs. But I think bureaucracy got in the way and I don’t think there was a lot of common sense applied to any of this.

‘We’re in a situation where I think we’re not going to see crowds back for a while. I hope when we come out of lockdown we understand the difference between outdoors versus other areas.’ 

Catch live coverage of England v Ireland on Channel 4, Saturday, from 2.15pm, kick-off 3pm.

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