During the Asian 5 Nations the Korean coach said that he would like to play Japan without their foreign players. This got me thinking about the the stereo types that we have in rugby and I thought I’d have a look at the facts. Here I’m going to look at where all the players at the Rugby World Cup were born.
Clearly each case is individual and I’m not going to be able to look into all 620 players individual situations. This isn’t a judgement call or witch hunt into the squads just a look at the cold hard facts.
Let us be clear, players have been playing for their adopted countries for ever. Here are some of the stereotypes that have built up over time:
- Japan import lots of Kiwis into their squad
- The All Blacks raid the pacific islands carrying off their best players
- Scotland is full of kilted Kiwi project players
- Italy are propped up by Argentinians
If you are not born in a country there are two ways that you can become eligible to play for that country. First there is the family/grandmother connection, this one I’m comfortable with and don’t have a problem. Then there is residency which is currently set at 3 years, this one again I’m comfortable with when a player/family has built a life somewhere new.
I was born in England and have lived in Africa, the middle east, south east Asia and now in New Zealand. My wife is a Kiwi and my daughters were born in Hong Kong and Singapore. So I’m fully aware that nationality is difficult to define in a modern mobile world. However I’m not comfortable with the Scottish style of project players who are employed with a target of being eligible for the national team. This though is not a witch hunt but to look at the numbers and see how they matchup with the stereotypes.
Let’s have a look at the numbers:
Twenty percent or one in 5 of the players heading to the Rugby World Cup are born in a different country to the one they will represent. I don’t know what I was expecting but that is a significant number which in retrospect it always had to be for this to be a story in the first place. What should be more of a surprise are the teams with none or only 1 or 2 players from overseas.
So let’s have a look at the stereo types:
- Japan import lots of Kiwis into their squad – Japan are at the upper end with nearly twice as many the average. Looking at those players 7 are from New Zealand, 2 from Tonga and one each from Australia and South Africa. 6 of those players though are Japanese citizens which means that they have legally had to give up their other citizenships and must take Japanese language tests not just rugby communication.
- The All Blacks raid the pacific islands carrying off their best players – New Zealand are just below average and of those 2 are from Australia with 3 from the islands. 1 from Samoa, Tonga and Fiji is hardly raiding the islands especially when we later look at where most of the abroad players come from.
- Scotland is full of kilted Kiwi project player – Scotland are at the upper end however 3 are from England. There are clearly project players and it’s the openness that people find so disturbing.
- Italy are propped up by Argentinians – Italy are over average and 4 of their players are from Argentina including 2 with over 100 caps each. It’s the high-profile and reliance of their Argentine players that has led to this stereo type.
Looking at some of the other numbers:
- Argentina, Georgia, Uruguay and Namibia have very few imports and this I would expect is also down to the strength of their economies to attract migrants generally. Also the lack of a professional league for players to play in will stop players qualifying due to residency.
- Fiji is a surprise when you see that Samoa and Tonga have the largest number of imports. When you realise that Auckland has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world you can see how they have so many second/third generation Kiwis to pick from.
- Wales have a surprisingly large number of imports but they are mainly from England and often have played all their professional rugby in Wales.
- When you consider that France has one of the largest populations of players and professional players the number of imports seems unnecessarily high.
The other way to look at this is from the supply side rather than the buy side. So here is the table listing where the 125 imported players come from.
|Papua New Guinea||1||0.8%|
New Zealand are by far the biggest exporter of talent with over 30% of the imported players come from there. 21 of the 39 play for Samoa and Tonga so not only do they have only a player from each in their squad but they also “provide” a large portion of those squads. It suggests the european view of the All Blacks being full of islanders is not true.
England is in the next group at 12% with most players in the Welsh and Scottish squads. This is clearly due to no boundaries and the general economic migration of much of UK to London.
Australia and South Africa are also at 12% but unlike the other two mentioned so far, the players are spread among many squads. Both countries people are known for travelling add to that the competition at home and economic benefits of travelling we shouldn’t be surprised by this.
The surprise is the relative lack of pacific islanders, they create a lot of headlines but it would seem there are relatively few imports.
The other surprises are the interesting countries with only 1 player exported including Burkina Faso which I hadn’t heard of before.
I hope you have found it interesting, some of the stereo types are true but others aren’t as simple as they first appear. Also there are some teams that have far more imports that you would expect.
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