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Last Updated: Friday, 26 September, 2003, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
Playing for the step-motherland
What have Mike Catt, Brian Liebenberg, Scott Palmer and Sonny Parker got in common?

They all play for the country they were neither born or began playing rugby in.

So what leads them to jump country and move elsewhere.

Brian Liebenberg of France
Liebenberg grabbed his opportunity to play for France
As far as Catt was concerned, it was a case of being in the right place and the right time - in England.

The man from Port Elizabeth, who played for the famous Grey High School, went on holiday to Stroud in Gloucestershire and suddenly found himself starring for Bath following a couple of training sessions.

He soon stepped up from someone struggling to get into the Eastern Province side to becoming an England regular earning a big wage packet.

A similar story surrounds the centre Brian Liebenberg, who was also born and bred in South Africa.

But instead of England, Liebenberg chose to move to France in 2000.

The former Natal under-21 player found himself playing for Grenoble before joining Stade Francais.

'ADOPTED' RUGBY XV
England: Mike Catt
(born South Africa)
New Zealand: Joe Rokocoko (born Samoa)
France: Brian Liebenberg (born South Africa)
France: Pieter De Villiers (born South Africa)
Italy: Scott Palmer
(born New Zealand)
Wales: Sonny Parker
(born New Zealand)
Georgia: Gregoire Yachvili (born France)
Wales: Brent Cockbain
(born Australia)
England: Stuart Abbott
(born South Africa)
Japan: Andrew Miller
(born New Zealand)
Italy: Matthew Phillips
(born New Zealand)
Ireland: Simon Easterby
(born England)
Fiji: Greg Smith
(born New Zealand)
Australia: Lote Tuquiri (Fiji)
Scotland: Glenn Metcalfe (born New Zealand)
After three years in France, the 23-year-old became eligible to play for Les Bleus.

And when the opportunity came his way to join the World Cup party, at the expense of legend Thomas Castaignede, it was an offer he just could not refuse.

"It is unbelievable. I feel nothing but happiness, though I am still finding it hard to believe."

"I am very proud to represent French rugby. France is almost like my country, it is where I have spent the majority of my professional career," added Liebenberg.

For Liebenberg to say that France is "almost" like his country suggests that an offer to play for one of South Africa's big club sides leading to selection for the national team would have been his preferred choice.

It is also likely New Zealand-born Scott Palmer and Sonny Parker would rather have chosen to play for their motherland than the countries they have ended up representing.

Palmer joined Italian side Treviso before the flanker made his debut against Argentina in November 2002, whilst Parker, who appeared for the New Zealand Maori Colts, went to play for Pontypridd in 1999 before qualifying for Wales.

Most of these choices have not been contentious, but an issue that has been is that involving players of Samoan and Fijian heritage choosing to play for Australia and New Zealand.

In August, Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chief executive John O'Neill admitted that the two top sides would have to stop the "systematic raping of the islands".

O'Neill was referring to the efforts by talent scouts from Australia and New Zealand who travel to the Pacific Islands in order to lure away young talent by offering them college scholarships.

Those chosen few would then be eligible to play for the superpowers who adopt them.

Joe Rokocoko of New Zealand
Rokocoko was a product of New Zealand's rugby schools
The likes of All Blacks Joe Rokocoko and Rodney So'oialo and Wallaby Lote Tuquiri learnt their trade away from their motherland from a very early age, but that trio could have chosen to play for their country of birth.

The exodus of talent has partly resulted in the Pacific Islands teams' stuttering progress up rugby's international ladder.

That and the financial problems they have incurred may even lead to one of the sides, Samoa, turning amateur.

To add to Samoa's woes, star players Trevor Leota and Henry Tuilagi have pulled out of the World Cup in order to continue playing for their club sides, for fear of missing out on wages.

This row over the 'player drain' will simmer on with one side saying that its the player's prerogative and the other saying that they cannot compete with the incentives the big boys offer.

But unless the IRB brings in a new rule change, non-capped players willl have the ability to play for whoever they wish.





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