England right to poach Irish talent like Declan Rice, Jack Grealish and Michael Keane, insists Gareth Southgate

GARETH SOUTHGATE has defended England’s poaching of Irish talent and insisted: We are not arrogant.

The Three Lions could field three players in Thursday’s friendly against the Republic of Ireland who once pulled on the emerald green shirt – Declan Rice, Jack Grealish and Michael Keane.

Boss Southgate said: “All those boys have had a lot to consider in making that decision.

“That’s why none of them took those decisions lightly, I’m sure – well, I know they didn’t.

“To make those decisions at such a young age, it’s so difficult to know what you want to do and where you want to head.

“All those boys reflected on that and decided they wanted to play for England.

“All were born in England, of course. It’s not that we’ve asked people to come across.

“We played Wales last month and they had a couple of players who were with us as youngsters – Tyler Roberts and Ethan Ampadu. We didn’t want to lose them.

“I think everybody is facing these challenges with dual-nationality players and we’ve always got to get the balance right of not capping them too early, just to stop them going somewhere else.

“We want to be fair to them so they can have a career.

“But I think the three boys we have with us, they look as if they can have good international careers.”

Rice, 21, made three senior appearances for the Republic and is only the second player – and first for more than a century – to represent both countries.

The West Ham captain and his family received death threats after he switched to England in early 2019.

Southgate says the strong character Rice has demonstrated in coping with the situation was one of the big reasons he wanted him to play for England in the first place.

Southgate said: “I was looking at him in the tunnel at Anfield the other day and you forget he is captaining his club at an incredibly young age.

“I did that at 23, 24 and that felt young. And he’s 21. It’s an incredible responsibility, really.

“He is an incredibly mature boy and he’s got fantastic leadership qualities. I think that’s clear to every coach that works with him.

“It’s one of the reasons we felt, when there was an opportunity to bring him with us, that we were so keen to do it.

"Not only is there the quality of player, but there is the personality and character.

“And we are very pleased with that decision and feel it was worth the extra yards we put in to allow it to happen.

“The alternative would be that we’d be arrogant and think people will just want to come and play for England – and that’s just not the case anymore.

“All players want to know how they are going to be treated and what the set up is like.

“And Declan’s performances have been very good for us, he has already picked up some very good experiences.”

Rice made his senior England debut a month after his switch.

Grealish, who had played for the Republic of Ireland from Under-17 to Under-21 level, had to wait a lot longer.

The Aston Villa captain, 25, won his first cap last month, more than five years after he declared for England in September 2015.

That call followed discussions with then boss Roy Hodgson and technical director Dan Ashworth.

Southgate explained: “Roy was directly involved in that with Dan.

“I did then meet Jack with his dad before he came with the Under-21s for the first time.

“He had already transferred across, we were taking him to Toulon and he hadn’t been with us previously.

“His first games were with us and that was when I spent a bit of time getting to know Jack a bit better.”

Thursday’s friendly will be a good opportunity for Southgate to get to know Grealish and other fringe players better.

And the Three Lions coach will not hesitate to pick Rice, Grealish or 27-year-old Everton defender Keane, an ex-Republic of Ireland Under-17 and Under-19 international.

Southgate said: “We’ll have to play somebody! But I can’t think too much about that.

“We’re playing in an empty stadium which makes things a bit different but I understand the interest in these players.”

England could yet try to tempt another Ireland-qualified player to play for them instead.

Leeds striker Patrick Bamford, 27, played once for the Republic’s Under-18s before representing Eng­land between Under-18 and Under-21 level.

amford’s fine start to the season has fuelled rumours Ireland want to make him a full international, as well as suggestions he interests England.

Southgate said: “We’ve had a discussion about Patrick – but didn’t think that it was right for this time.”

Perhaps it is just as well, given the controversy caused by the switches of Rice and Grealish.

But it has not been one-way traffic over the years.

The Republic of Ireland squads led to glory by the late Jack Charlton, the 1966 World Cup winner with England, included a number of English-born players.

Southgate said: “I have experienced the other side. I played for years with Andy Townsend.

“Andy and Tony Cascarino had brilliant careers with Ireland and, as far as I know, they were pretty much London born and bred, those pair – or south of England.

“Look, it’s happened both ways, to the benefit of everybody across the years.

“I’m also sure it will continue to do so for evermore.”

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