By Scott MacLean
Lost in the hubbub of the All Whites missing out on their World Cup, the Kiwis crashing out of theirs (plus doubling down on everyone around them), and another at times middling All Blacks performance, was word that another mid-20s stalwart of New Zealand rugby was headed overseas.
That longstanding Hurricane and Lion Brad Shields has opted that his future lies offshore isn’t surprising; a partial list that have and gone on to play international rugby includes names like Howarth, Leslie, Marsh, Flutey, Maitland, Payne, and Waldrom.
But what has gotten the goat of some people is that – apparently – he had the temerity to turn down a call-up from Hansen & Co because – shock horror – he’s decided to eschew the black jersey with the silver fern for a white one with a red rose.
You don’t turn down an All Black call-up they say, it’s certainly rare for someone to do that (Brad Thorn is the only one I can recall who has, claiming he ‘wasn’t ready’ before deciding he was for the 2003 RWC before heading back to the Broncos and returning three years later), let alone to play for THEM!
Adding to that is that because of his parents, Shields would be immediately eligible for the England side without having to go through a stand-down period and consequently could not only figure to make their 2019 RWC side, but maybe even the clash between the two sides this time next year.
It’s likely that Shields would have preferred to not to announce his future quite so soon – he’ll reportedly join London-based-but-play-in-Coventry Wasps – but the circumstances have forced his hand. What’s also likely is that Shields made up his mind some time ago. Even accounting for the fact that 6 and 8 are largely interchangeable in the current All Blacks set up, his road to All Black honours has run into roadblocks. With the skipper entrenched at the back of the scrum, he’s had to watch as Elliot Dixon and Liam Squire received call-ups to back up Jerome Kaino ahead of him; you can make a case he’s a better player than at least one of the Highlanders pair, if not both. And since he’s watched Vaea Fifita at every training session for the past three years he knows what he’s capable of.
At best the current regime see him as fifth on the depth chart at his position, and that’s without considering that Ardie Savea, Sam Cane and Sam Whitelock have all packed down at blindside at various moments in the past three seasons (plus Anton Lienert-Brown for SBW-early shower related reasons if you want to count that). With England he figures to immediately become a consideration for Eddie Jones.
Clearly he’s figured that the writing was on the wall. Having the option of being eligible for two Tier 1 sides is something of a privilege, but I certainly don’t blame him for deciding to cash his chips in where he can.
Follow Scott on Twitter