Martin Johnson is “worried” by the lack of depth in English rugby ahead of a potential call-up for Hurricanes captain Brad Shields.
While born in New Zealand, the loose forward qualifies for England through his parents and could be fast-tracked into Eddie Jones’ squad for the tour to South Africa in June.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Stew Tew confirmed last month that Shields – who will join Wasps at the end of the Super Rugby season – had requested an early release from his contract, paving the way for him to play international rugby for his adopted homeland.
Jones is without a host of key players for the three-Test series, with Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, George Kruis, Nathan Hughes, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson all ruled out through injury.
Yet Johnson, who captained England to World Cup glory in 2003 before later coaching the national team, feels Shields’ selection would only demonstrate the lack of homegrown talent available.
“This has been coming for a while. Eddie’s doing it because he obviously doesn’t think he’s got enough talent in England,” Johnson said in an interview with the Times.
“It doesn’t offend me. It is worrying that he doesn’t think the players are in this country. We should be producing the players to have an international squad and be able to cover the natural unavailability. We don’t seem to have that depth at the moment.
“Guys like Sam Simmonds, Sam Underhill – get in and get injured. You want to see those guys. South Africa will be great for them if they can go and play there.
“I have been worried a while – where are the next players? If you have a team that’s going well and they play until they are quite old, by definition, the next generation are not coming through, not getting a chance.
“I’m sure some people would say they are but that they are not getting a chance to play because the Premiership clubs are just bringing in foreign players.”
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