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Bowe: Irish-born stars should be picked ahead of project players


By Cian Tracey

Tommy Bowe believes that Bundee Aki has earned his place in the Ireland squad but he is adamant that if Joe Schmidt has a 50-50 selection call to make, the Irish-born player should be given the nod ahead of a project player.

The 33-year-old was left out of the Ireland squad for the November series but there is no bitterness towards Aki in getting selected ahead of him.

From 2020, World Rugby are set to change the residency rules in that project players will only be allowed to play for their adopted country after five years instead of three, which is how the likes of Aki, CJ Stander and Jared Payne have qualified for Ireland.

While Ulsterman Bowe accepts that Ireland have benefited from the loose regulations, he is in favour of the new rules that will be introduced. He observed: "I think the fact that it is moving to five years is a good thing.

"All of the countries have benefited from it but you want to see home-grown players playing for their country."

Bowe continued: “You want to see Irish guys who haven’t just been here for three years. Moving it out to five years is something that I would agree with.

“Bundee Aki is someone who has been talked about coming into the Irish set-up for a long time. He’s played some outstanding rugby for Connacht.

“Joe will be very excited to have him in the system and it’s something that we have to make the most out of.

“I’m sure the likes of Luke (Marshall) will be disappointed. They all have high hopes of playing for Ireland. To lose your place to anyone, whether they are a project player or someone from one of the other provinces, it’s always difficult.

“It gives you extra motivation. When I went away to the Ospreys, I knew I had to be an extra 10-20% better than my immediate opposition in Ireland because if it came down to a 50-50 decision they would get the nod.

“It’d be the same for project players; if it was a 50-50 decision between the likes of Bundee and one of the other centres, I would like to think that the Irish player would get the nod.”

Meanwhile, Conor Murray has leapt to the defence of Aki, saying his new Ireland colleague has come in for unfair criticism.

The Auckland-born Connacht centre is expected to make his international debut for his adopted country on Saturday against South Africa after qualifying through the three-year residency rule.

Aki is the latest to qualify for Ireland under the law, following Richardt Strauss, Rodney Ah You, Robbie Diack, Jared Payne, CJ Stander and Nathan White.

And the decision to include him has come in for criticism, with former Ireland lock Neil Francis describing it as “morally wrong”.

Murray said: “It’s tough on a player, he came over here and played rugby and qualified for Ireland the right way.

“I know people have different opinions, but singling a player out like that is really unfair. Bundee hasn’t done anything wrong.

“We’re lucky to have him in our squad.”

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