June International Tours

Hape hopes to make the most of England chance

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Shontayne Hape will make his England debut this weekend confident he will not go the way of other recent Kiwi rugby-league converts who have failed to shine for their adopted country.


Hape was on Wednesday selected at inside centre by England manager Martin Johnson for Sunday’s non-cap Test match against the Barbarians at Twickenham.


It will be the latest attempt by a former New Zealand rugby league player to make the grade in union at international level with England.


Henry Paul was dropped for good after being substituted after 26 minutes of what was his sixth cap following a humiliating display against Australia in 2004, while winger Lesley Vainikolo earned five caps in 2008 before being ditched by England’s management.


However, a host of other code-switchers have succeeded in the 15-man game – notably former England full-back Jason Robinson and ex-Australia winger Lote Tuqiri – and Hape, 29, believes his two years learning his trade at Premiership side Bath will enable him to make the transition.


“I’m pretty good mates with Henry and Lesley and I understand where they went,” Hape said.


“They’re probably a bit different to me because they came into the England squad a lot quicker than I’ve done. So I’m just concentrating on my own game and doing the job I can do.


“I know there’s a lot of pressure and it’s a different level playing in Test matches so I will have to step up my game.


“I’ve bided my time and now the chance has come this week. It should be good.”


Hape should have made his England debut in this year’s Six Nations match against Wales at Twickenham but, having come into the starting line-up as a late replacement for Riki Flutey, fell ill himself on the eve of the match and was forced to pull out.


The former Bradford Bulls and New Zealand Warriors player is hoping for more luck in the run-up to Sunday’s game against the Barbarians, an invitational side made up of star names from around the world.


“I was desperate to make that match, but for 24 hours I was vomiting and I didn’t want my first England performance to be one where I wasn’t 100 percent fit,” he said.


“You can imagine what it was like because I thought I’d be playing my first Test and a lot of people were texting me because they still thought I was playing.


“But I had no energy and if I’d gone out there and under-performed, I would have been grilled.


“It wasn’t the way I wanted to start my England international career. Hopefully this time when I wake up on match-day, I will be fresh and happy and looking forward to getting out there.”


Hape’s selection for this weekend comes at the expense of another Bath player, Olly Barkley, who has to be content with a place on the replacements’ bench.


Hape will be in good company as he is playing alongside in-form Sale fly-half Charlie Hodgson and fellow centre Mike Tindall, the experienced 2003 World Cup winner who is engaged to Zara Phillips, the granddaughter of the Queen.


“I have some experienced guys out there with Charlie inside me and His Royal Highness on the outside. I just tease him with that!” Hape said.


“If I need any guidance, those two guys have played a lot of Tests so I’m sure they can help me out.”

 

Hape, who is qualified to play for England on residency grounds, insists his commitment to the England cause should not be questioned.

“It happens in sport everywhere around the world,” he said. “I know I’m not the first to have been born abroad and I certainly won’t be the last.


“I’m proud to pull on that England jersey. I’ve been over here for eight years, my kids were born here and it’s home to me now, so I feel very comfortable with it.”

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