The Rugby Debate: England should not pick Denny Solomona

Gavin Mairs
Denny Solomona - Rex Features

Welcome to The Rugby Debate, a weekly series in which rugby experts give their views on the game and invite you to wade in too. This week, Gavin Mairs puts forward the case against a controversial potential England call-up. Agree? Disagree? Have your say in the commments section.

The Rugby Football Union should be applauded for spearheading the case for extending the international residency laws - but they have undermined the campaign with their stance over Denny Solomona.

Solomona’s sparkling form for Sale Sharks since his controversial code-switch from Castleford Tigers has led to calls for the New Zealand-born Samoan rugby league international to be fast-tracked into Eddie Jones’s England squad or even Warren Gatland’s Lions squad.

The 23-year-old Sale wing, who became the first player in Premiership history to score five tries in his first five games in the competition, qualified for England on the March 9 under the current three-year residency laws.

The fact that he represented the Samoa rugby league side last year (his grandparents are Samoan) does not affect his qualification for England in the 15-a-side code. And he wants to play for England, telling The Times: "Yes, 100 per cent. If the opportunity presents itself, I'll take it with both hands.

Whos on the plane?

"At the moment, I'm just focusing on the now and playing well for Sale. If it comes, it comes. I've bought a house here, I'm engaged to marry an English girl, I'm well and truly inside the English culture now. I've been here three years and that's the choice I want to make."

No, the RFU were right when they asserted last Friday that they were within their rights to pick Solomona if it was felt he would strengthen the England squad - but it felt far from the moral high ground.

And it's hard to see how this stance does not undermine the credibility of the RFU's argument for the world game to embrace an extension from three to five years.

Ian Ritchie, the RFU chief executive, declared the governing body’s support for a change in January, just days after Solomona had decided to switch codes and before he had qualified for England.

Yet at a time when the governing body is still lobbying for support for the change to five years ahead of the World Rugby council meeting in May, the RFU could have underscored that message by imposing their own moratorium on selecting players who solely qualify for England on residency grounds - at least until the vote in May. 

Eddie Jones has some tough decisions to make Credit: PA

Unions are free to impose their own qualification rules above the current three-year minimum laid down by World Rugby and in December the French Rugby Federation said it would no longer go on the three-year residency rule but instead would require players to possess a French passport.

Why should others back the change when the RFU, with more financial power and playing resources than anyone else, still want to use current laws to their advantage right up until the point the qualifying period is extended?

One of the most important drivers behind the proposed extension is to encourage more Pacific Island players to play for the country of their birth at a time when the financial lure of others is so strong.

By claiming their right to pick Solomona under the current rules, the RFU have missed a trick. 

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