Monday 24 October 2016

Big Ben strikes out for England

Te'o move makes Blues look like a stepping-stone club to England

Leinster's Ben Te'o (SPORTSFILE)
Leinster's Ben Te'o (SPORTSFILE)

There is a serious danger of Leinster becoming nothing more than a stop-off point for men like Ben Te'o on their way to richer pastures.

It was known that former Leinster coaches Matt O'Connor and Michael Cheika had joined forces to bring Te'o back to Australia to compete with Tevita Kuridrani for the Wallabies number 13 jersey at Queensland Reds.

It was an attractive package that suited Te'o's needs to stay in rugby union and to play international rugby for the country where he had played out his rugby league career for West Tigers (2007-2009), Brisbane Broncos (2009-2013) and South Sydney Rabbitohs (2013-2015).

However, the increased financial stability of English club rugby from their monumental broadcast deal with BT Sport has trickled down to the clubs already.


The most obvious example of this is how France number eight Louis Picamoles is moving from Toulouse to Northampton Saints next season.

Anyway, Worcester Warriors, the current home to Irishmen Donncha O'Callaghan, Darren O'Shea and Niall Annett, entered into the discussion for Te'o's signature.

Quite simply, they blew, Leinster, Queensland and whoever else may have been interested right out of the water with an offer 'too good to refuse', believed to be a gob-smacking €600,000.

"Ben is a really exciting talent and has proved he is more than capable of transferring his skills from League to Union," stated Worcester Director of Rugby Dean Ryan.

"His experience and power in the centre will add further depth to our midfield and we're looking forward to him joining up with the side."

No doubt, Leinster and the IRFU wanted to retain the services of Te'o in order that he would qualify to play international rugby in the Autumn of 2017.

The 28 year-old 16.5 stones centre, a unique physical specimen in Irish rugby, prefers the quick-fix option of playing for the country to which his mother holds close heritage ties.

He has an English passport and is qualified to play for Eddie Jones.

It couldn't hurt that the new England coach is an Australian and Jones has not been backwards about making his interest known to Te'o. Apparently, the two men have had more than one conversation about where Te'o stands in Jones' England rankings.

How ironic that the English coach Stuart Lancaster who nailed his tenure to Sam Burgess's World Cup selection should be replaced by an Australian who could include Burgess's great mate Te'o in his first squad.

It is not outside the bounds of possibility the Leinster centre could play for England in the upcoming Six Nations.

In effect, Leinster have provided Te'o with a platform on which to relearn the game of his youth in what is becoming a stepping-stone league.

Even Worcester, hardly a traditional English powerhouse, in terms of the professional era, have been able to prise a difference-maker out of the grip of a club rated the best in Europe as recently as 2012.

Coach Leo Cullen was forced to accept Leinster's fate with understandable good grace.

"Although disappointed that Ben is leaving, on behalf of everyone at Leinster Rugby, we would like to wish Ben the very best with his move to Worcester and indeed with his quest to play international rugby," he stated.


"Ben is a very popular player within the group and we believe that he can still play a big part in our season."

Then, Cullen took breathe to remind Leinster supporters how Te'o had no problem performing in Australia when he was on his way to the province.

"He showed in his last season with the Rabbitohs that he has the skill set to apply himself brilliantly in delivering some big performances on the way to helping his club win the NRL title in the full knowledge that he was joining Leinster."

For Te'o, the simple fact that he will be moving to his fifth professional club indicates his view of the world. This is a business decision. Pure and simple.

He goes where the best opportunity exists.

This time around, Worcester rolled out the biggest cheque book.

For all the debate over how The Aviva Premiership is at odds with the English Rugby Football Union, in this case, the pay out from Worcester and the lure of international rugby benefits both of them.

"Warriors are in a very similar stage in their playing and cultural development that I found when I first joined the Rabbitohs," imparted Te'o.

"I look forward to making a similar contribution at Sixways.

"The investment in facilities and infrastructure is impressive and after speaking with Dean Ryan, it is clearly a club which is on the up.

"Everything is in place for Worcester to become a successful club competing in the top tier and I'm excited about getting started at Sixways."

As long as Leinster can't keep their overseas players, how can they compete for world-class signings?

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