Michael Rhodes ready to take it on the chin if barbs come his way
England new-boy could face his homeland.
Michael Rhodes is backing himself to stay composed in the face of any sledging from South Africa if he makes his England debut against his homeland.
Rhodes is in contention to start in a remodelled back row for the Springboks’ visit to Twickenham on Saturday as Eddie Jones contends with an injury crisis that has claimed Billy Vunipola, Nathan Hughes and Chris Robshaw among its victims.
Saracens’ hard-tackling blindside flanker qualifies for England on residency grounds and in a twist of fate could win his first cap against the nation he left for the Gallagher Premiership in 2015.
Knowing he might be targeted by the Springboks, he is ready for any verbal hostility.
“That could well happen. Things like that do happen on the pitch,” Rhodes said.
“I don’t know how I would react in the game but those type of things don’t tend to affect me too much. In any club games I’ve played, I have just focused on doing my job.
“The chirp and the chat is part of the game. They might try to niggle and get under my skin, but I think I can just ignore that and can get on with the game.
“I’m not perfect but I would like to think I can block that out especially if I anticipate it coming .”
Rhodes played South African provincial rugby for five years before joining Saracens for a change in scenery and he quickly made an impact, most notably for his fearsome defence and work rate.
On selecting him in his autumn squad, Jones remarked that “when he hits, he hurts” and the 30-year-old is expected to be play a part in an autumn series that continues with fixtures against New Zealand, Japan and Australia.
It was only 18 months ago that the prospect of representing England began to materialise, although the back row resources available to Jones made it a long shot until injury struck.
Rhodes insists anyone doubting his allegiance to the national cause should watch him play.
“To those people, I would say that my goal is to win rugby games with England. I’m going to play as hard and committed as possible to winning the game,” Rhodes said.
“If they are supporting the team, then the winning is what they should be concerned about.
“As I say, when it comes down to commitment, there should be no doubt where my commitment lies.
“It’s really strange how things work out. I never came here to play for England and I left my international aspirations in South Africa when I left there.
“It wasn’t a decision I made in terms of ‘oh I want to play for England’, as most English players would have because that was never on the table when I first moved here.
“I’ve had a lot of support from mates back home. I think my old man’s been getting more flack than me about it from his mates about who he’ll be supporting.
“He hasn’t told me yet, he’s probably keeping it on the down-low for now.”