SCOTLAND head coach Vern Cotter has courted more “kilted Kiwi” controversy by handing a call-up to Otago Highlanders back-row John Hardie.
The 26-year-old has been added to the extended Rugby World Cup training squad and arrived yesterday to join the national team’s pre-campaign preparations at BT Murrayfield.
Representing Scotland has been on my radar for a long time so I’m delighted to get this chance to compete for a place in the squadJohn Hardie
Cotter attracted criticism from some quarters when he named the 22-year-old flanker Hugh Blake in his initial Six Nations squad before the youngster had made a professional start in the country. He has since played a couple of games for Edinburgh and is also in the extended World Cup squad.
Hardie has been linked with a move to Scotland since last autumn and missed the Highlanders’ recent Super Rugby championship triumph over the Hurricanes with a rib injury.
Primarily a flanker, Hardie, who qualifies for Scotland through his grandmother Christina Lumsden from Low Valleyfield, Culross in Fife, and whose brother Grant played for Peebles in the 2009-10 season – said yesterday he was delighted to earn selection.
However, that is a slight departure from his comments ahead of the Super Rugby season, when he said that he still harboured hopes of becoming an All Black.
Back in February he said: “That [Scotland] is always an option but I want to fulfil my potential in New Zealand.
“I’ve always aspired to be an All Black but rugby can be pretty cruel at times. You just have to deal with what is dished up.”
Although Hardie’s NZRU/Highlanders contract is now up he is not committed to signing for Glasgow or Edinburgh and will now focus on aiming to make the final World Cup pool of 31, while keeping his club options open.
Hardie brings obvious quality and experience – he has been named Southland’s player of the year in the national provincial championship three times and played plenty of Super Rugby – and the “parachuting” of the former New Zealand Under-20 cap is the latest in a long line of imported talent. As well as the “kilted Kiwis” who qualify through parents or grandparents, there is also the increasing trend towards so-called “project players” which allows for qualification after three years’ residency. The South Africa-born duo of Josh Strauss and WP Nel are eligible to play for Scotland in the World Cup under these regulations and are in the squad.
Hardie expressed joy at his call-up and said: “Representing Scotland has been on my radar for a long time, so I’m delighted to get this chance to compete for a place in the squad for the Rugby World Cup. I’m under no illusions how tough it’s going to be to make the final selection.”