Mark Aston believes GB team would boost Irish rugby league

Ireland coach Mark Aston is preparing his team for their European Championship campaign, which begins against France in Dublin on Saturday afternoon.

The Irish squad has been depleted in recent years by players such as Kyle Amor jumping ship and being picked for England squads.

Aston believes that that puts players in difficult positions, and detracts from the strength of the international game as a whole.

He feels that a return to a Great Britain and Ireland team, with the players picked from a Home Nations type championship, would give rugby league in the Celtic nations a real boost.

“It frustrates you, because, at the end of the day, should there really be a jump across, and back and forth?” he told Love Rugby League.

“Should a player really be put in that position? That’s what I talk about.

“Luckily enough, I played for Great Britain, which was the pinnacle for me.

“I still think they have got to look at the full structure of it all, and Great Britain should be there.

“That’s my opinion, the Great Britain team should be picked out of the Home Nations, and then go on tour like they used to do.

“We don’t get the opportunity to see the likes of Danny Brough with the best team that Great Britain can produce.

“And we should have that. It gives people an opportunity. Imagine seeing people like James Roby play against Michael McIlorum in Ireland, or Kyle Amor play against the Burgess brothers, or Luke Ambler ripping it up against the best.

“Then you could pick GB out of that. That to me is the fairer way, but I can’t change that.”

Aston is also frustrated by the general negativity towards international rugby league in the Celtic nations from the sport in general, which he feels does not respect the opportunities iternational competition can bring.

“We had a real good World Cup, the boys bonded really well,” he said.

“We had a tough group, but we learned about the standards in international rugby, and we gave people an opportunity.

“We gave people a dream, and that’s what it’s about for me. We have to take it bit by bit.

“This year was always going to be the worst, after a World Cup, then everybody might jump in later.

“But people don’t understand the importance of it. You’ve got a chance to play in the Four Nations in 2016, we’ve got a chance to get automatic promotion to the World Cup in 2017.

“You would hope that all the clubs and all the game would be behind it and supporting it, and saying ‘Let’s get Ireland to the World Cup, let’s get Ireland into the Four Nations.’

“But it is what it is, and I have to make sure that we look after the people who are here, and make sure that they have a good time and play to their potential, and we can do that.

“We’re not going to go out and make rash statements that we’re going to win it. We’re just going to go about our business, enjoy it, and if we win it, that’llbe a great bonus.

“If we don’t, then we’ll still be proud of ourselves.”

As far as developing players in Ireland itself, there are green shoots beginning to poke through, with Irish players starting to appear in the lower levels of the professional game in Britain.

More resources, especially in terms of cash and personnel are needed, though, according to the Sheffield Eagles coach.

“There’s people who are starting to drift across to Britain and play,” Aston added.

“Matt Hadden played for Oxford last year, came and trained with us at Sheffield Eagles.

“He loved it, but wasn’t quite ready for that standard. But at the level he went to, in Championship One, he was very good.

“Could he jump back up? He possibly would have done, had he not had to go back home to look after his sick father.

“So that was a shame, because he’s a very committed young man, who has got something about him.

“There’s going to more, they’re out there in Ireland and we’ve got to find them.

“But you need resources to find these people, you’ve got to have people working full-time.

“Our full-time staff in Ireland at the moment have been pulled, we haven’t got that anymore.

“So we relying on volunteers. Thank goodness I’ve got Mr Andrew Giles, who’s my general manager at Sheffield Eagles, who is helping me with Ireland.

“He’s making sure we get the right flights at the right times and all that. Without him, I’m not sure we’d get there.”

As for further development in the Emerald Isle, Aston believes that using a rugby league academy to help filter more rugby union players into the 13-man code is the next step for the Irish game to take.

“The interesting thing for me is how we can set up an academy in Ireland. We’re not going to compete with union at this stage,” he said.

“You’ve got Leinster who’ve got 28 development officers, so there’s no point going into the schools in the surrounding areas.

“We need to look at the kids who are coming out of their academy and at Munster and get them into an academy for rugby league.

“It’s difficult, because they get paid decent money from amateur rugby union clubs. But that’s what we need to do.

“We need to get on that, but you’ve got to have scouts, and then you’ve got to have people who can deliver – that’s the issue.

“That would be the next step for me – set up an academy, and target rugby union clubs, feed them into a rugby league academy, and then you would have more coming through.”

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