Eddie Jones insists Brad Shields is ‘genuine’ about England ambitions
Shields, part of the New Zealand Under-20 team that were crowned world junior champions in 2011, is poised to make his England debut on Saturday.
Brad Shields’ contentious selection by England may have drawn criticism but after several days of working with the Kiwi flanker Eddie Jones insists his motives are genuine.
Shields is poised to make his debut off the bench in Saturday’s first Test against South Africa at Ellis Park, less than a week after flying 7,655 miles from Wellington to Durban to join up with his new team-mates for the first time.
Qualifying for England through his parents, he is to join Wasps next month upon completion of his Super Rugby commitments with the Hurricanes.
Among the dissenting voices questioning his inclusion are former Red Rose captain Lewis Moody and World Rugby vice-chairman Agustin Pichot, the Argentina great who is a staunch campaigner for stricter eligibility rules.
Jones, however, has seen enough to be persuaded that the 27-year-old, who covers second row as well as flanker, is committed to the English cause.
“Brad was undoubtedly nervous about coming into the squad and fitting in,” the head coach said.
“It’s difficult when you come to a different team, particularly when you have been playing your domestic rugby in another country.
“But he has fitted in extremely well and everyone knows he is genuine about wanting to play for England. The transition for him has been very good.
“He has been so impressive in learning information, gelling with and adding to the squad. He’s very serious and driven.”
Shields was part of the New Zealand Under-20 team that were crowned world junior champions in 2011, facing his new team-mates Owen Farrell and George Ford among others in the final.
His ambition of All Blacks selection failed to be realised and, upon learning of Wasps’ interest last year which was followed by an approach from Jones, he chose to switch national allegiance.
“I don’t think he has anything to prove to the All Blacks. He understands that he gave it his all in New Zealand and they didn’t select him,” Jones said.
“You don’t want players who carry around baggage, you want players who see opportunity and want to take them.”
Pichot’s reaction on Twitter when presented with a photo of Shields in an England jersey was to lament that the “game is losing something” and Jones took a diplomatic line when responding to the former Pumas captain.
“I’ve got a great comment I could use but I probably won’t. I’ve been in enough strife for a while so I’ll let that one go through to the keeper,” he said.
England captain Farrell has noted that Shields has “constantly had his head in his book, learning in his way”, while Ford remembers his presence in the Junior World Championships final in Padua seven years ago.
“Brad actually said to me ‘were you part of that 2011 team?’ and I said ‘yeah, yeah’. We were just checking whether we did actually play against each other because it’s a long time ago now,” Ford said.
“He seems to be a no-nonsense guy who works as hard as he can and he’s really physical, so he’ll be a great addition for us.”