Brad Shields' family have bitten their tongue for too long. Now they want to defend their son's controversial switch from New Zealand to England.

On Saturday the back-rower became the 1,399th player to play for England, coming on as a 36th-minute substitute at lock for Nick Isiekwe. That Shields has been parachuted in without playing a minute on these shores has angered some, the Daily Mail reported.

Much has been written about the 27-year-old, the to-and-fro surrounding his release, and his choice to change allegiance. His parents, Nigel and Danielle, have kept their counsel — but now want to set the record straight.

"It's hard to read about it," his mother, 56, exclusively tells Sportsmail.

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"I defy anyone in any career who has an opportunity and a dream like this not to choose the path that would give them that. It happens in any career, in any sport.

"There's lot of people born in different countries who end up representing an adopted country.

"Bradley did not pick himself. The selectors in England saw something in Bradley that they wanted or needed in their team, and the selectors in New Zealand didn't so didn't pick him.

"That is their prerogative. It is what it is."

A typically to-the-point rebuttal from honest Kiwi folk.

Here's Dad, 54-year-old Nigel: "He may have opened up a can of worms but he certainly didn't plan it.

"He has been mature, kept his dignity, and kept the moral high-ground if there was one.

"He was caught between a rock and a hard place. Bradley is not going to gloat that's for sure."

"I can understand a little bit of frustration on the English side," Danielle adds.

"It's not his bug to bear if he got chosen and someone else didn't."

Brad Shields looks on during the England training session held at Kings Park Stadium on June 5, 2018 in Durban, South Africa. Photo / Getty Images.
Brad Shields looks on during the England training session held at Kings Park Stadium on June 5, 2018 in Durban, South Africa. Photo / Getty Images.

And the Shields' want everyone to know one thing – despite reports to the contrary he never turned down the All Blacks as he was never offered a place in their squad recently.

"We hope everyone moves on," Nigel continues.

"Bradley does too. He wants to play at the highest level he can. There is nothing wrong with that."

Now that is covered it is worth telling Shields' fascinating story.

Back in Easter 1991 Danielle was seven months pregnant and intending to travel down from Nigel's parents' house near Masterton in New Zealand's North Island to Christchurch in the south – her and Nigel, who met in the Army, were taking up a posting there.

But Brad had other ideas.

"I had complications with the pregnancy and Bradley was born at the local hospital in Masterton," Danielle explains.

"He was eight weeks early but we were extremely lucky, he flourished from birth and was only in an incubator for a day.

"He was a fighter right from the word go."

"At the start of Bradley's life he weighed four-and-a-half pounds, and now he's 17-and-a-half stone!" laughs Nigel.

So how did that transformation happen?

"It must've been the meat-pie sandwiches!" chuckles Dad. 'And his mother's nachos!"

Hurricanes captain Brad Shields during the Hurricanes vs Sunwolves. Photo / Photosport.co.nz
Hurricanes captain Brad Shields during the Hurricanes vs Sunwolves. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

Shields owes his new career to his parents. In 1964 Danielle's family upped-sticks from Rochford, Essex to New Zealand. Her father was a quantity surveyor who saw an opportunity as a "Ten Pound Pom".

In 1966, Nigel's family moved from Hull too; his dad an aeronautical engineer. Both left England when two years old.

Whizz forward 40 years and there is Brad; a 14-year-old playing for Taita College 1st XV, three years up.

He had learnt his favourite sport near the Waiouru military camp, 2,500ft up in the hills near Mount Ruapehu – playing barefoot rugby in the freezing cold.

Nigel remembers returning from a tour of Cambodia to a two-year-old Shields.

"The first thing he said to me was 'do you play rugby?'" Nigel recalls.

"He was tossing a ball around. I said: 'Yep, course I do mate!'

"All of our kids were given every opportunity to explore and try out different sports."

They are good at them. Younger brother Nicholas, 25, will represent New Zealand in the World Beach Handball Championships in Russia this summer.

Sister Stacey, 29, is sporty too and cousins Beth Ross and Catherine Shields are rowers. The former will compete for New Zealand in Bulgaria at the World Championships and the latter is at Utah College and a three-time US National champion.

Brad played U19 regional basketball and formed part of the Black Sox U19 softball team – but rugby was always the dream.

Soon he was a Hurricane in Wellington – following in the footsteps of All Black heroes Jerry Collins, Christian Cullen and Tana Umaga.

In 2012 he was invited to join the world champions. Nigel recollects the Mothers' Day dinner Brad interrupted – and wants to correct the story from the local paper at the time.

"It said 'luckily Shields is allowed to read his texts at the dinner table'," says Nigel.

"Well, Shields isn't allowed to read his texts at the dinner table! But he did and gave me a nudge. I said: 'Put your phone away Bradley' but he said 'no, have a look at this!'

"We broke the family rules to read the text. It was from the manager of the All Blacks saying 'congratulations, we want you in the camp'.

"He was a bit nervous as he was only 21 at the time but thought 'Wow'. It was the first time we didn't see him eat!"

The dream was not realised. In retrospect that camp was a sliding doors moment. Sam Cane – now the All Blacks new Richie McCaw figure – twisted Shields' knee in a training-ground tackle and he was crocked for eight months.

Four years later Shields was re-called, but not selected to play.

In 2015 his parents moved to Surrey, then Berkshire. They now run a 40 hectare estate in Stanford Dingley, and Danielle works in the local pub.

Soon Brad, his wife Louise and seven-month old daughter Charley will join them in England.

Mum and Dad cannot wait.

"We've got five grandchildren so it will be nice to have one of them here," says Danielle.

"We miss them terribly. It's a small world with technology, but our young grandchildren think we live in the TV!"

"I'll be able to watch his games with a beer!" chuckles Nigel.

"That's why I enjoyed the Test match on Saturday, I could have a couple of beers and it wasn't 8am!"

They will fly out to South Africa on Friday hoping to see their son make his full debut in the second Test in Bloemfontein. The England shirts are packed after a first outing on Saturday.

"We had our jerseys on and a celebratory lunch with some bubbles to mark the occasion," says Nigel.

"It was a very proud day for both of us. We backed the All Blacks as kids but my parents used to back England. I can't remember wearing an English shirt before."

"Apart from 2003!" Danielle interrupts.

"For the World Cup final we had a party at our house – we wore England shirts then."

"Yes, you can't support Australia," says Nigel.

Come 2019 they may be able to wear the rose with pride watching a World Cup again, but this time with their English son involved.