'Why take away the opportunity?' - Exeter's Gareth Steenson urges IRFU to reconsider Ireland selection policy

Gareth Steenson and Ian Whitten
Former Ulster centre Ian Whitten is a team-mate of Steenson's at Exeter

Exeter Chiefs fly-half Gareth Steenson has called on the IRFU to review its policy which prevents players playing for a club outside Ireland from being selected for international duty.

The 35-year-old Dungannon native was part of the Exeter squad that won the European Champions Cup on Saturday.

Steenson has never played for Ireland, having first moved to England with Rotherham Titans in 2006.

"I think it's a shame," he told Sportsound Extra Time.

"There are only four provinces that you can select from, so why take away the opportunity if some of your best players are away playing top-level rugby in a different competition? They will be are learning from other players and other leagues.

"I understand that it is an easier way to look after players, being at home, but for me I never had an opportunity to play for any of the provinces.

"I was always at a disadvantage as I was never going to get selected for Ireland, that was just the way it fell for me. Hopefully, one day, the IRFU might look across the water, but I can say that now I'm finishing."

Gareth Steenson
Steenson has the chance to win a European and Premiership double on Saturday

Steenson, who was an unused substitute in Saturday's decider victory over Racing 92, joined Exeter in 2008 and will retire at the end of the season as the club's all-time leading points scorer.

Ian Whitten, who won two Ireland caps while playing for Ulster at the start of his career before joining Steenson at Sandy Park in 2010, lined up at centre for Exeter on Saturday.

Former Ireland wing Simon Zebo was in the Racing side - and Steenson believes both players should have more Ireland caps.

"Ian was not getting the opportunities he would have wanted at Ulster, and did not have a chance to play for another province," Steenson continued.

"He ended up over here but could have more caps for Ireland. It is the same with Simon. I had a good chat with him after the game, he is loving life over there and playing some great stuff."

Steenson's final match before retiring as a player will be Saturday's Premiership final against Wasps at Twickenham.

Looking ahead to the potential of ending his career with a European and Premiership double, he said he has no regrets about his career path, despite the lack of international honours.

"I cannot have any regrets. When I first came to Exeter it was all about trying to get back home to hopefully have the opportunity to play for my country," he added.

"But would I sacrifice any of that for what we have achieved? Not a chance. I always used to say I was in the wrong place at the wrong time when I was back home, but I would definitely say I am in the right place at the right time here in Exeter."

The full interview with Gareth Steenson can be heard on Monday's edition of Sportsound Extra Time, which is on Radio Ulster at 18:05 and will be available BBC Sounds.

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