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IT chap! Very modern.
For those that can't get beyond the pay wall.It would be interesting to know what Eddie Jones said to Ben Te’o when the moment came to deliver the bad news. Would they have spoken about the incident with Mike Brown in Treviso where Te’o lost control?
My guess is that Jones would not have gone into much detail. Te’o is 32 and chalk-dust dry behind the ears. Not a man in need of a soft landing. Jones could have prattled on about responsibilities but that’s not his style and anyway, Te’o would have been in the squad if Manu Tuilagi was unfit.
His surprise omission elicited little sympathy — not that Te’o would expect any. He knows and we know what his England relationship has been about. You couldn’t call it a romance. This is not at all a criticism of the player but there are things that English rugby should learn from The Parable of Ben Te’o.
He was born in January 1987, in Auckland. His dad was Samoan, his mum English. Young Ben could play rugby, league and union. In 2003 he played for the New Zealand Under-16s at league. A year later he moved to Australia and from there the progression into professional rugby league was seamless.
At 21 he played for Samoa in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup, and he went on to enjoy a fine league career with Brisbane Broncos and then South Sydney Rabbitohs. Four years in Brisbane made him a Queenslander and he played for the Maroons in the 2013 and 2014 State of Origin series. There was also a call-up to the Australia rugby league squad. Wherever he laid his hat, he called home.
In 2013 Te’o was cleared by Queensland police and the NRL Integrity Unit of assaulting a young woman, Katie Lewis, at the home of a Broncos teammate. He felt coverage of the incident was unfair and damaging to him. A year later he was in Ireland, having signed for Leinster and switched from league to union.
They liked him in Dublin. Good players command respect and he is good. He was contracted to Leinster for two years. There were hopes he would stay for a third and qualify for Ireland under the then three-year residency rule. Ireland too has its weakness for rugby immigrants.
With an English-born mum there was a quicker route to Test rugby, and after some encouragement from Jones, Te’o agreed to join Worcester Warriors on a three-year contract with an annual salary of £375,000. Before playing a game for the club he was selected for England, travelling with the squad to Australia for the three-match Test series against the Wallabies in 2016.
He did not play in those Tests but was integrated into the group. Soon he would be part of the matchday squad. The move to Worcester became problematical. Worcester director of rugby Dean Ryan had sold him a vision of a club on the rise, one that would be pushing for a place in the European Cup. Then the purse strings tightened at Sixways and Ryan felt undermined. By the time Te’o turned up for pre-season training, the director of rugby had departed and the vision had changed. Te’o found himself at a club anchored in the lower half of the league, with some considering his salary unaffordable.
Injuries did not help, nor did his forthrightness. Interviewed, he said he didn’t like the artificial pitch and had not expected to be fighting relegation. To more than a few Worcester fans it seemed Te’o was more interested in playing for England than for their club. On one forum, a fan commented, “Ben has always been in the club but not of it.”
In three seasons Te’o played 36 times for Worcester, 18 times for England and twice for the British & Irish Lions. Though he helped Worcester to stay in the Premiership last season, his contract was never going to be extended. He is one of a number of high-profile players who left the club at the end of last season.
The word is that he has signed with a Japanese club. Asked about it last month, he said he would first have to get the World Cup out of the way. “Once that’s done, I can be like, ‘OK, where am I at now? Where’s my head, where’s my hunger? What’s going to make me happy for the next few years?’ I don’t even know yet.”
Unless there is an injury call-up he will not be at the World Cup. Te’o, though, will move on to the next challenge and it’s likely the deal has already been done. For this is a player who does know what makes him happy. He wants to get paid for playing footie. That is an objective, not a crime. Along the way Te’o learnt that rugby can be a brutal and at times exploitative job. He has made the best of it. I hope he gets another good contract in Japan.
England and he were ships that passed in the night. “I really enjoy playing for England,” he said in a 2017 interview. “I enjoy the satisfaction mum gets out of that.” If reports of a future in Japan are true, he will be abandoning England after just 18 appearances. The bottom line is that his England career diminishes the value of the shirt he wore. He came. He played. He left.
England has a terrific pool of home-produced players and those in charge need to consider that perhaps there is no need to keep looking for southern hemisphere talent. Two years ago Lewis Ludlam was playing for the Rotherham Titans. Four years ago ago Piers Francis was playing for the Doncaster Knights. As for sympathy for Ben Te’o. Save it for Saracens’ excellent scrum-half Ben Spencer.
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