Kiwis defend Six Nations calls

2015-01-21 14:31
Warren Gatland (Gallo Images)

London - With fifty percent of the competing coaches all hailing from New Zealand in Warren Gatland (Wales), Joe Schmidt (Ireland) and Vern Cotter (Scotland), there was already a strong Kiwi feel to this season's Six Nations.

But that influence was strengthened with the inclusion on Tuesday in each of the Scotland and Wales squads by an uncapped New Zealand-born player not long arrived in their adopted countries in Hugh Blake and Gareth Anscombe respectively.

Cotter's decision to call-up 22-year-old Edinburgh flank Blake was particularly notable as the loose forward has yet to play for the club after arriving in Scotland on a six-year deal last month.

Blake could pack down alongside Blair Cowan, another Kiwi representing Scotland, with the Scots' native playing resources stretched thin by an inability to support more than two full-time professional clubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Cotter emphasised the commitment of Blake - qualified through his Scottish grandparents - to the Dark Blues by saying: "We have to be open-minded about this. Hugh's got Scottish ancestry and he is very proud of it.

"Hugh is a very good player and highly rated in New Zealand. He's a very skilful player and generally gets two to three turnovers a game.

"He's played against Richie McCaw and the best players in the world - and he's available for Scotland."

World champions New Zealand have long produced more good players than can be accommodated by the All Blacks.

There was uproar when the 'Grannygate' scandal of 2000 saw the Wales careers of New Zealand-born duo Shane Howarth and Brett Sinkinson halted after it was discovered they did not, in fact, possess a Welsh grandparent.

The call-up into the Test squad of Anscombe, 23, is less contentious on eligibility grounds given the mother of the former Auckland and Chiefs stand-off is Welsh.

But there may still be some unease in Wales, where rugby remains the national sport and which prides itself on its fly-halves especially, that Anscombe has been chosen after just nine appearances for Cardiff Blues.

His selection could well spell the end of the Wales career of Neath-born James Hook who, in fairness, has long been out of favour during Gatland's reign.

Gatland said it was talking to former New Zealand fly-half Wayne Smith, now set to rejoin the All Blacks coaching staff after helping them win the 2011 World Cup, that persuaded him of Anscombe's quality.  

"I had a good chat to Wayne Smith about him, and Wayne couldn't speak more highly," Gatland said. "When that recommendation comes from someone like Wayne Smith, you've got to take notice of that."

Gatland added: "I met with Gareth here (in Wales) with his dad a bit longer than 12 months ago. We sat down and had a chat.

"With his mother being born in Cardiff, we knew that he was an option for Wales, and the discussion was a very general one.

"There was no pressure from us in terms of his declaration, and if he wanted to go back to New Zealand, play Super Rugby and continue the dreams and aspirations to be in the All Blacks, I didn't have a problem with that," the Wales boss explained.

"He went back and had another season with the Chiefs, and I think Gareth then thought that for him to fulfil his dream of playing international rugby, the best opportunity for him was to come to the Blues and make himself for Wales in the short term, and hopefully the long term."

Read more on:    six nations  |  rugby

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