Five New Zealand-born centres set to take over Europe's Six Nations

Aki starred in his international debut for Ireland against South Africa.
Aki starred in his international debut for Ireland against South Africa. Photo credit: Getty

New Zealand rugby is blessed to have a bottomless pit of talent in the midfield.

That talent pool is so great, however, that many are leaving our shores for greener pastures in the Northern Hemisphere - and they're thriving.

Players deemed not good enough for the black jersey are now turning out for the many colours represented in Europe.

Up to five Kiwi centres are set to feature in February's Six Nations tournament, with France the only nation not represented.

Instead, their midfield consists of the old, tried and overweight Mathieu Bastareaud, the man infamous for claiming to have been beaten up by "four or five men" whilst Les Bleus were touring New Zealand in 2009. More recently, he's been heard hurling homophobic slurs at a player in a Top-14 game.

After a horrendous 2017 season, where they finished ninth in the world rankings and subsequently fired head coach Guy Noves, they could sure use an ex-pat or two.

Meanwhile, Ireland enjoyed a much more successful year, where they dismantled an out-of-sorts Springboks side 38-3, their biggest win over the historically great rugby nation.

With former Blues assistant coach Joe Schmidt the orchestrator, past Super Rugby players Jared Payne and Bundee Aki find themselves in favour with the Irish.

Payne has even gone on to greater honours, having been part of the British and Irish Lions squad that toughed out a drawn series against the All Blacks last year.

He is in doubt for the tournament as he continues to battle post-training headaches following the Lions tour, but is a chance to feature later on should he regain fitness.

In Aki, meanwhile, Ireland may have found their new superstar on the world stage after his incredible debut against South Africa last November.

The former Chiefs and Counties Manukau player caused the hapless Boks defensive problems the entire Test, and quickly put to bed any criticism received following his inclusion in the national squad.

Te'o has been capped eight times by England.
Te'o has been capped eight times by England. Photo credit: Getty

New Zealand's biggest foe for the upcoming season, England, head into the tournament as favourites - and again, a Kiwi is expected to feature.

Ben Te'o missed England's last season's end-of-year internationals through injury, but has since recovered to be included in Eddie Jones' squad for the tournament.

The 30-year-old made his debut for his adopted country in 2016, and has quickly established himself in the English midfield.

His form for the Worcester Warriors saw him earn favour with Jones and then with Warren Gatland, as the former league player found himself in the Lions squad alongside Payne.

Te'o was born in Auckland and quickly rose up the rugby league rankings to become a member of the 2005 Junior Kiwis.

But an opportunity to represent Queensland in the State of Origin proved too tempting, as Te'o would pledge his allegiance to another country - and not for the last time, evidently.

What would follow would be deemed a successful career for any league player, as Te'o would go on to win an NRL Premiership with the South Sydney Rabbitohs in 2014, before changing codes and joining Irish-based club Leinster.

Another Kiwi who made the jump to Australia before taking his talents north is former Highlanders and Hurricanes player Jayden Hayward.

The 30-year-old made his debut for Italy's Azzurri against Fiji in November last year, before playing a further two Tests.

Hayward burst onto the scene for Taranaki 10 years ago before being included in the Highlanders squad for the 2009 Super 14 season.

But he would soon fall out favour, and suffered a similar fate after a switch to a Hurricanes side boasting the talents of Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu congesting the midfield.

His move to Western Australia paid dividends as he found some much-needed game-time, before Italian Pro14 club Benetton came calling, a side he has since played over 50 games for.

Parkes scored two tries on his Welsh debut against the Springboks.
Parkes scored two tries on his Welsh debut against the Springboks. Photo credit: Getty

Meanwhile back in the UK, you'll find rugby's newest darling in Wales in the form of perennial rugby journeyman Hadleigh Parkes.

Like Aki, Parkes made a statement with a sensational debut against the Springboks this past year.

The second-five scored two tries in Wales' 24-22 win over the African side, proving he can match it with the best on the international stage.

Parkes previously played for the Blues, Southern Kings and the Hurricanes in Super Rugby, as he struggled to find a home for his rugby talents.

But like the others before him, was snapped up by a club plying their trade in the Pro14 competition - on this occasion, the Scarlets in Wales.

He has gone on to play 80 games for the Llanelli-based side, prompting selection for the national side after becoming eligible under the three-year residence criteria.

Last but not least is Scotland's newest brave heart Nick Grigg.

Much like Hayward, the 25-year-old struggled to find a spot in the Hurricanes squad, and was relegated to their development side.

So when Scottish club the Glasgow Warriors offered Grigg a trial, he quickly jumped at the opportunity and was subsequently signed as an academy player in March 2015.

He bought his time and a year later, put pen to paper and signed on as a professional after receiving a call-up to the Scotland Sevens squad.

Impressive performances would follow for the Warriors, and Grigg would earn his first Test cap against Fiji in June of last year.

He would then ironically beat out fellow Kiwi Phil Burleigh for a spot in the Scotland side for the Six Nations tournament, as part of a talented midfield core.




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