Sydney - All Black gripes about Australia poaching their players have been met with both astonishment and wry grins.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen is fuming about Kiwis being
"pinched" after Auckland product Mike Harris kicked the Wallabies to a
surprise 18-18 Test draw in Brisbane on Saturday.
Hansen called for the Australian Rugby Union to get its house
in order and stop stealing players after he was asked whether Harris's
display embarrassed the NZRU's talent identification system.
"It's time you start developing your players in your own country," he responded.
A stunned Harris returned serve today by hinting at hypocrisy
from the All Blacks who have consistently selected Pacific Islanders in
the past, and also played former Australian under-21 halfback Steve
Devine a decade ago.
"I was a bit surprised by Steve's comments," the 24-year-old Harris said.
"It's been going on for as long as rugby has been professional, and maybe even further back as well."
Harris wasn't the only former New Zealand underage player in
the Wallabies team at Suncorp Stadium as prop Sekope Kepu also defected
after failing to crack a Super Rugby start.
It was Queensland coach Ewen McKenzie who sparked the
conversion of both and he believes New Zealand's rugby strength will
continue to see overlooked aspiring products cross the ditch.
"They've got a lot of players," McKenzie said. "They've probably got too many players in some positions."
A flyhalf or inside centre, Harris was a member of the
Blues wider training group while Sydney-born, south Auckland-raised Kepu
was outside the Chiefs' contracted-player list.
McKenzie watched with more than pride when Harris kicked five
penalties from five attempts and also made a fine fist of fullback
against the All Blacks.
"I did have a bit of a giggle when he was kicking goal after goal - just as well we brought him over," he said.
"When I first spoke to Mike he was in the wider training
group for the Blues, he wasn't on the fast-track to anywhere. He had
three guys in front of him to play Super Rugby.
"It's worked out well for him."
Eligible to play for the Wallabies through an Australian-born grandmother, Harris said he had no regrets.
"As an aspiring rugby player you always want to be playing at
the next level and if New Zealand had offered me a Super Rugby jersey
things might have been different," he said.
"I'm very thankful to get the chance to play for the Reds and Wallabies."