Hape relishing England debut
May 26, 2010
Bath centre Shontayne Hape is set to make his first England start against the Barbarians on Sunday © Getty Images
Bath centre Shontayne Hape insists he will feel right at home when he becomes the latest former New Zealand rugby league star to pull on an England jersey.
The 29-year-old, who played 14 Tests for the Kiwis before switching codes in 2008, has been named in the England side to face the Barbarians at Twickenham on Saturday and will follow in the footsteps of Henry Paul and Lesley Vainikolo.
His selection is set to re-open the raging debate about imported talent but Hape himself is relishing the opportunity. "I am proud to pull on that England jersey, I've been over here for eight years, my kids were born here and it is home to me now, so I feel very comfortable with it. It's a great honour and I will be going out there not only representing my country - England - but my family that live here and all my friends.
"I've got my dual citizenship, I'm a dual international, I'm not the first and I won't be the last. I know there is a lot of pressure and it's a different level playing in Test matches so I will have to step up my game. I have some experienced guys out there with Charlie Hodgson inside me and His Royal Highness [Mike Tindall] on the outside. If I need any guidance those two guys have played a lot of Tests so I'm sure they can help me out."
Bot Paul and Vainikolo failed to make the grade as England Test players but Hape believes he has experience on his side. "I am pretty good mates with those guys," said Hape. "They are probably a bit different to me because they came into Test rugby a lot quicker than I have done. I've almost had 50 games now since I swapped from league, so I think I've done my time. It's been a hell of a ride. I do feel ready for international rugby."
Hape has been on England's radar since he switched codes and he was in line to make his Test debut against Wales during the Six Nations, just weeks after qualifying on residency grounds, before falling ill on the eve of the game. "He's a very smart carrier with the ball in hand. He's one of those guys that seems to have a bit more time than most, he's very composed," said England manager Martin Johnson. "I've been impressed with him all the way through."
Hape's appearances at inside centre for Bath were limited by Olly Barkley's return to action for the club after Christmas but he gets first bite of the cherry ahead of next month's tour to Australia and New Zealand. The five-match trip ends with a clash against the Maori in Napier.
"It will feel weird if I play the Maori. It's a country I was brought up in and I am from New Zealand Maori descent," said Hape. "I've got a Maori tattoo across my shoulders and back representing my family, my brothers, my sisters, where I come from, my tribe. I'm definitely proud of where I come from but this is a new chapter of my life. I've spent eight years over here now and I'm very humbled and grateful to be included in the England squad. The pinnacle would be to represent England at the World Cup (in New Zealand) next year. The tour coming up now, if you get a shot you've got to take your chance."
Gloucester lock Dave Attwood and Newcastle prop Jon Golding are the other uncapped players making their first senior England starts in a team to be captained by Nick Easter.
Johnson is without all of his Leicester contingent, who play Saracens in the Guinness Premiership final on Saturday, but he confirmed Lewis Moody will captain the 44-man squad Down Under.
"Lewis and Nick have got different strengths and we are in a pretty good place in terms of leadership," said Johnson. "We have picked a strong team. It is exciting to see Jon Golding playing for England, same as Dave Attwood and Shontayne. The whole point of taking an extended squad on tour was to give them rugby at a high level."
Hodgson, the Sale fly-half, will make his first England start since he was dropped during the ill-fated 2008 tour to New Zealand and branded a defensive liability by his coaches. Saracens-bound winger David Strettle is also back in the senior squad, having also not played a Test since the Auckland defeat to the All Blacks in 2008.
"There is always an element of using this game to give these guys an opportunity but they want to be in a winning shirt for England. They never shirk that responsibility," said Johnson.
After tackling the Barbarians, England play two Tests against the Wallabies and two midweek matches against the Australian Barbarians before finishing up against the Maori.
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