The captain of the Scotland World Cup squad, Danny Brough, told me in an explosive Rugby League World interview in 2009 that he wanted to play for England instead. Brough didn’t win England selection and returned to the Scotland fold, but his dilemma underlined the folly of the RFL’s decision to scrap the Great Britain team.
DANNY BROUGH, the winner of last year’s Albert Goldthorpe medal as the best player in Super League, has delivered a stinging blow to the Rugby Football League’s new international plans by telling Rugby League World that he no longer wants to represent Scotland, who he captained in the World Cup.
Instead, and perhaps understandably, the Wakefield halfback will throw his lot in with England and when you consider that Tony Smith, the England coach, had to pick a scrum-half from the National Leagues (Salford’s Richie Myler) against Wales last year, you’d have to fancy Brough’s chances of at least winning a place in the England squad.
The RFL have claimed that the decision to disband the Great Britain team would help the three Celtic nations. However it has served only to weaken them with Brough the latest player to switch to England. It has presented a number of players with decisions that they might not have had to make otherwise.
Previously, an English-born player with Irish grandparentage, for instance, could play for Ireland in a World Cup but then still compete in an Ashes series the following year for Great Britain.
An example of this is the former St Helens captain, Chris Joynt, who helped Ireland to the World Cup quarter-finals in 2000 and then played for Great Britain against Australia in 2001.
But Joynt told Rugby League World in 2007 that he wouldn’t have played for the Irish if it had meant missing the chance to have a crack at the Aussies 12 months later.
That, effectively, is the scenario facing players like Brough today. Choose Ireland, Scotland or Wales and you won’t play in Four Nations tournaments or Ashes series. Understandably, players are going to choose England and the Celtic nations are going to suffer.
Wales now have to make do without two props who have represented them in the past, Garreth Carvell and Keith Mason, who also hope to catch Smith’s eye. Similarly Scotland were without Lee Gilmour and Richard Horne in the World Cup, although both players played for them in the 2000 competition. These four players are far from England certainties, and weren’t involved in the World Cup, but presumably would still rather hold out for England in case they are considered for future selection rather than take the guaranteed caps on offer from Wales or Scotland.
A player will invariably feel that if he chooses to play for one of the Celtic nations, his international career in non-World Cup years will involve him playing in low-profile, non-televised games in poor stadia in front of sparse crowds. Compare that with the dream of playing for England against Australia at Wembley.
But if the Great Britain team still existed, they could have both. Brough could play for Scotland in the next World Cup, while hoping to be selected for Great Britain in the Four Nations. If he was unsuccessful in that, he could still play for Scotland in their annual autumn internationals.
With Great Britain taken out of the equation, however, an Ireland, Scotland or Wales player is effectively denied the chance to compete at the highest level internationally.
Even if they’re not certainties to make the England 17, as Brough isn’t because Rob Burrow is the incumbent scrum-half, taking the risk is understandably tempting.
The Wakefield lynchpin, however, would probably be Burrow’s understudy and, in the opinion of many pundits, including RLW’s Garry Schofield, he possesses the best kicking game in Super League.
Brough’s decision is the most high-profile international defection since Great Britain were put to bed. To see the Scotland World Cup captain electing to play for England, when he may only be a squad member, if that, will be enormously embarrassing for Red Hall. Imagine a Scotland soccer or union captain declaring to play for England, forced into a corner by their sport’s governing body.
“I’ll be putting myself forward to play for England,” said Brough.
“If you want to be the best you have to play against the best and that’s Australia and New Zealand. If I stick with Scotland I won’t get the chance to play against these nations.”
Brough then went on to criticise the RFL’s decision to do away with the Great Britain team.
“If the best player in the world was Welsh then he can’t play at the highest level anymore,” he argued.
“And if he qualifies for England as well, like Keiron Cunningham, then he’ll choose to play for England. I bet that if Keiron was faced with this choice at the start of his career, if Great Britain hadn’t existed, then he’d have chosen England ahead of Wales.
“It doesn’t make the international game look good because Scotland, Ireland and Wales look like feeder teams.
“Take someone like Sean Gleeson. He had a great World Cup for Ireland but what will he do it England come calling? You wouldn’t be able to blame him if he wanted to play for them. Mark Calderwood did it. He was in the Scotland squad for the World Cup but then went over to England at the last minute when a spot came up.
“But if you stopped players switching then you only need two good players playing for each of the three Celtic nations and suddenly you’ve got England facing the Aussies without six good players, compared to what Great Britain would have. Why would we weaken our own national team?”
Brough is aware that he might not even make the England squad for this year’s Four Nations but points out that it’s worth taking the chance.
“I’ll have to see how I perform,” he said. “You have to be playing well, obviously, but it would be great to play for England. It would be a massive honour to do that.”
The 26-year-old admitted that he has spoken to Scotland coach Steve McCormack about the issue.
“I’ve spoken to Steve about it and he understands,” he said.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Steve. He gave me my chance to play for Scotland as a National League Two player, when I was at York.
“Things have changed since then, though. They’ve done away with the Great Britain team which means that if you want to play against Australia and New Zealand on a regular basis, you have to put your hand up to play for England. It’s a no brainer really.”
Brough made his Scotland debut with a man-of-the-match performance in a 30-22 win over Wales in the 2004 European Nations Championship, which was eventually won by England. He made seven appearances for the Scots with his best performance coming in the 21-14 win in the World Cup qualifying match against Wales in 2006, in which he scored a try.
“I had some great experiences playing for Scotland,” he said. “The World Cup may have been disappointing for me but I’ve had some great trips with them and qualifying for the World Cup was a big high for us [Scotland beat Wales in a two-legged play-off, played in 2006 and 2007].
“It was good for Scotland to get their first-ever World Cup win, especially with it coming against Fiji who had such a good tournament, but I was disappointed with my own performances out there. I didn’t do myself any favours. I put myself under a lot of pressure and made errors and missed tackles that I wouldn’t normally.
“But, ultimately, if anyone comes into the England reckoning, they’re going to jump at the chance to play for them because the opportunities are so much greater.
“Not only is it a chance to play against the best in great stadiums, there’s also the representative money to consider. Your contract money can go up when you play for England and you don’t get that playing for Scotland.”
Brough even dropped a hint before the World Cup that this was something he was considering. He expressed his frustration with the current international set-up just before last year’s World Cup in an interview with League Express.
He said, “I’ve heard that England will kick off next year’s Four Nations at Wembley whereas it should be Great Britain. It’s a real disappointment that members of the Scotland, Ireland and Wales teams can’t play top-level international every year.
Brough, meanwhile, is recovering from a shoulder operation that he underwent on Christmas Eve to deal with an injury that troubled him last season – one that can possibly explain his loss of form in the last third of the season. He won the Albert Goldthorpe medal which was inaugurated by League Express last season but didn’t pick up any points late in the season.
“The injury is from midway through last season,” Brough explained.
“It was pretty bad and when I went to the physio they said I needed an operation and I went in on Christmas Eve.
“But I started running again at the end of January and I hope to be back just after round four.
“People talk about players needing a rest but I don’t enjoy being on the sidelines. I’d rather be out there. Hopefully the lads can get off to a good start and kick start our season.
“The club have made a good start in the last couple of years and have maybe peaked too soon so we need to get off to a good start but also maintain it through the year. In fact, Leeds and St Helens sometimes start badly but then come good when it matters. Maybe we should aim to do that!”
Danny Brough factfile
2002 Makes professional debut for Dewsbury.
2004 Reaches the Challenge Cup quarter-final with York. Makes Scotland debut.
2005 Kicks the goal that wins the Challenge Cup for Hull FC against Leeds Rhinos in Cardiff.
2006 Joins Castleford who are relegated. Named man of the match as Scotland beat Wales in first leg of World Cup qualifier.
2007 Helps the Tigers win promotion and is named the best player in the National Leagues by Rugby League World. Helps Scotland qualify for the World Cup.
2008 Wins the inaugural League Express Albert Goldthorpe medal as the best player in Super League. Captains Scotland in the World Cup.
“It’s extremely unfair and it was interesting to read in ‘League Express’ that Keiron Cunningham would have never played for Wales under this ruling. We’ve already been harmed with great players like Lee Gilmour and Richard Horne, who played for Scotland in the last World Cup, now wanting to play for England.
“Young players who qualify for England and one of the Celtic nations will now all hold out for England.”