Can Andy Powell open the door to a new generation of converts?

Talk of the possible signing of Wales rugby union international Andy Powell from Sale Sharks by Wigan Warriors brought to mind the days of yore, when Welsh RU lads used to ‘go north’ in great numbers.

Of course, back then, they were enticed by the prospect of earning a living by the skills, a right which every sportsman or woman should have. 

Since union went professional in 1995, the ranks of converts have, sadly, thinned, something which is actually a shame for the sport. 

Rugby league in Britain continues to suffer from a small player pool, a legacy of our history as regional and working class sport, looked down on by many of the Establishment. It was hard to spread the sport and give union players outside the chance to try it as they would have faced bans and other childish censures from the rugby union authorities.

So maybe we should start to look to converts once again. While Welsh players may be harder to tempt as union still rules supreme west of Offa’s Dyke, there are other parts of the world where rugby union has been embraced and league struggles to reach.

Countries such as Uganda, Spain and Kenya all have rugby union sides, and no domestic professional leagues. There is talent there too, as anyone who has watched the IRB World Sevens at all can testify. 

Sevens rugby union is a sport with a similar skills set to rugby league. So why aren’t our scouts having a proper look at the World Sevens? 

Players from Spain or Kenya will have no chance of ever enjoying the kind of international 15-a-side careers that their talents might indicate they deserve. Rugby league is a sport which can provide a testing environment, good wages and a large and enthusiastic fanbase. 

And if they really are good, then the riches of the NRL can also beckon. That has surely got to be better than playing Sevens for the rest of your career?

There are other rugby union environments in which to look for players too. Ireland has a thriving rugby union scene, as does Italy. Argentina have become a genuine world power. Not all of those players will thrive as their talents would perhaps dictate that they should in a rugby union environment

The RU, especially in England, have exploited our home produced talent for while now, with many current England players and coaches coming from a league background. 

Surely the time has come for us to exploit them in turn, to take some players from backwaters or forgotten corners and turn them into stars. The first Argentine, Kenyan or Spaniard to play in Super League would surely attract some positive headlines and publicity, and get us onto the front foot in terms of media impact.

It would also potentially do much for the development of the game internationally, with converts perhaps taking the rugby league message back to their own countries. Gareth Thomas demonstrated how this process can be handled positively and sensitively.

Meanwhile, Powell himself should get ready for what is about to hit him. As another great Welsh dual code star, Jonathan Davies, said about his return to rugby union from league: “It’s the first time I’ve been cold for seven years. I was never cold playing rugby league.”

So should Powell join the Warriors, he should get ready to feel some heat. If he relishes it, he could do wonders for Welsh rugby league in a World Cup year.

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