Brock James, one of the most successful of the Australian rugby stars plying their trade in Europe, has weighed in on the debate surrounding the Wallabies’ controversial eligibility laws.
“It makes it hard for the national team with the selection policy that they’ve got,” the former Australian 7s star told Australian Times in London. “If players aren’t in [Australia] then they’re not selected. But you’ve got guys like Matt Giteau who for two years now has been arguably one of the best players in Europe and he’s not able to be selected for the Wallabies – it makes it hard for him.”
James moved to France in 2006 to play for Top 14 club Clermont Auvergne and knew back then that he was making a “big decision”. He also knew that he was passing up on the opportunity to ever be picked for Australia while he remained overseas.
“I guess it’s a decision we make when we come over. You know you’re not going to be in that pool of players eligible to be selected.”
However fair or unfair that may seem – or detrimental to our national pool of players – James says he understands why the Australian Rugby Union are so stringently enforcing their much exhorted selection policy.
“I see why they’ve got the rules, especially in Australia. It’s a difficult job to compete with all the other sports in the marketplace. They need the best players, they need the best matches that they can have for the spectators and the public. It’s one way of keeping the quality players onshore.”
However it’s not as if playing in Europe has been a burden for the mercurial number 10. Since leaving Australia and his Super Rugby career at the Western Force, James has helped Clermont Auvergne to European Challenge Cup victory in 2007, to the Top 14 title in 2010 and was part of the heart breaking Heineken Cup Final loss to rivals Toulon in 2013. And now he’s been selected as the only Australian in a very experienced Barbarians team that face England at Twickenham on Sunday. Playing alongside the likes of Joe Rokocoko, Jimmy Cowan, Hosea Gear and Francois Trinh-Duc, James is hoping for some success against the old enemy.
“The Barbarians is always something you watch growing up and you’d like to imagine you’d get a chance to play, so to be invited is quite an honour.”
Although James and his young family are now nationalised French and loving their life in Europe, he still keeps highly abreast of Australian rugby and has a few tips for Ewen McKenzie and the Wallabies selectors.
“I saw Quade [Cooper] will be out for six months [with injury], so personally I hope Bernard Foley gets a bit of an opportunity. I think what he’s done this year and even last year, he deserves it.”
He also doesn’t believe we’ll see the exodus of Australian players to the likes of France and Japan slow down anytime soon.
“I think the Top 14 is arguably one of the top competitions in the world. You look at the Toulon side that won the Heineken Cup last week, it’s pretty much an international team.
“The Australians started coming [to Europe] a lot more over the last few recent years. I think France was always seen as something you do towards the end of your career, now the guys are getting out and seeing it as a real life experience as well.”
Rugby journeyman James O’Connor was set to line up against the Clermont Auvergne star at Twickenham on Sunday but pulled to focus on his upcoming match for the World XV in South Africa.