Residency Rule Reform

New Connacht signing Bundee Aki has openly declared his wish to one day, play for Ireland in the coming years. The Chiefs centre has no roots to Ireland, but after securing a three-year deal at the Sportsground, he hopes to don the Green shirt through the residency rule (currently meaning if you live in a nation for 3 years, you are eligible for their national team). This has caused much criticism with rugby fans, which poses the question whether the residency rule needs to be changed.

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Aki is hardly the first to do so. England and New Zealand both have a huge crop of players from this rule (although they both try to pretend the other does it so much worse than they do!). Meanwhile, Scotland have scouting missions specifically to tie global players with no prior attachment to the nation so they can pick them via the residency rule. It happens over all the major top tier nations to different extents. The question is, why does this even matter?

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Whilst you don’t want to begrudge the chance for a talented player to dazzle at the highest level, it is important to maintain a distinction between club and international rugby. The current residency rule format means countries can essentially make signings providing they have not previously been capped by another nation, by giving them a three year contract. If this continues to spread as an epidemic, then international rugby will become nothing but glorified club rugby. Club rugby also has its perks, but international rugby needs to continue to be a unique prospect with a different feel, and sense to club rugby.

But the residency rule could also be a hindrance for developing rugby nations around the world. This is because it allows players from minnow countries to be poached, and qualify for a top-tier nation after living there for 3 years. Without this, perhaps some of these poached players would have proudly paraded a national jersey of their own nation. Maybe then the likes of Tim Visser would have played, and boosted the Netherlands national side, as oppose to the top-tier Scots.

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The issue is, whilst most in the rugby world agree that the residency rule needs to be changed, there does not seem to be a unanimous solution. Is the answer to scrap the residency rule totally as some suggest? No, because there are plenty of examples of people being born in one country, but being raised in another and having pride for that nation as a result.

I would suggest two measures to solve this issue. Firstly, make it 10 years a player has to be in a nation before they qualify for that country. 10 years is a long time, enough time to feel proud of that nation. It also allows players to play for the national side of a country they were raised in. Secondly, make the players of an under-20 national team tied down for that nation. That way, countries with a hotbed of talent (such as Zimbabwe) will not have their young prospects stolen by the top nations.

These measures would change the already illustrious international rugby game for the better. Not only would it secure the uniqueness of test matches from club matches, but it could also help minnow nations hold onto their talent.

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16 comments

  1. What players has New Zealand done this with mate?

    • They have a reputation of poaching players from the Pacific Islands, but to be fair, once looking it over in more depth, it does seem that the All Blacks don’t do it to the extent that I originally thought.

      • Who though? Most are born here, and there is a select few, minimal, who come here young with their parents for a better life. No one in the All Blacks has come over for three years just to play on residency grounds.

        • Yeah you are right, when looking at it in more depth, the All Blacks ‘poaching’ players from the pacific islands is a misconception. Thanks for correcting me 🙂

          • All good, I hate it when people say that. Just for general knowledge, Auckland is the largest Polynesian City in the world. Therefore, a lot of Polynesian heritage players are full NZ citizens and have been since birth.

  2. Well this is an easy solution. Make it so that the new residency rule is that you have to have lived in country for 5 years, while completing those 5 years, you have to be under the age of 18. This means that a player who is born offshore can still represent a country he is not born in and has no relatives born there, while still maintaining strong ties with that country. This is pretty much what most of those All Blacks born in the Islands (Rokocoko, Mulaiana, Nonu etc) have done, meaning they have strong links to NZ, despite not having been born there, which is Bundee Aki is not doing, and is something that Manu Tuilagi and Tim Visser, for example, have not done.

    • Manu Tuilagi moved to England at the age of 13, so he would also comply with your new residency rule.

      • My mistake then lads. Better do my research next time. But still back my idea of the new rule.

        • Yeah, I do agree, even as an England fan I do not think it is right that Tuilagi plays for us (he even has a Samoan flag tattooed on his arm!)

          • Just dropping in to say that although I said I disagree with this current residency rule, and I stand by the rule I came up with, I do believe that players from Tier One countries (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France, Italy) that can’t crack the national team for their Tier One country, and can’t crack another national team by using my residential rule, I believe that the current rule (the 3 year one) should be in place for these players in order for them to be able to play for a Tier Two or Three team. This would allow them to develop the Tier Two countries to compete and possibly turn into a Tier One nation, and promote rugby in Tier 3 nations to get them to Tier Two status. Adding to this, I also believe players who have played for a Tier One country should have the option to step down from international rugby for 12 months or so and play for a Tier 2/3 nation they are eligible for, mainly for the same reasons as applied above. This should also be done for Tier Two players intending on playing at a Tier 3 level.

    • Manu’s been in England since he was 13, and has been schooled here ever since. There’s an interview of him going around his own college, and you can see the pride and the “strong links” that he clearly has: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDXzoRkFnCM

  3. Ok, lets take (for argument’s sake) the England team which started the last match (vs Italy):

    1. Mako Vunipola – Born in New Zealand
    2. Dylan Hartley – Born in New Zealand
    3. David Wilson – Born in England
    4. Joe Launchbury – Born in England
    5. Courtney Lawes – Born in England
    6. Tom Wood – Born in England
    7. Chris Robshaw – Born in England
    8. Ben Morgan – Born in England
    9. Danny Care – Born in England
    10. Owen Farrell – Born in England
    11. Jack Nowell – Born in England
    12. Billy Twelvetrees – Born in England
    13. Luther Burrell – Born in England
    14. Jonny May – Born in England
    15. Mike Brown – Born in England

    2 players born outside England. Now we look at the Wales team from their last match (vs Scotland).

    1. Gethin Jenkins – Born in Wales
    2. Ken Owens – Born in Wales
    3. Rhodri Jones – Born in Wales
    4. Luke Charteris – Born in England
    5. Alun Wyn Jones – Born in Wales
    6. Dan Lydiate – Born in England
    7. Sam Warburton – Born in Wales
    8. Taulupe Faletau – Born in Tonga
    9. Mike Phillips – Born in Wales
    10. Dan Biggar – Born in Wales
    11. George North – Born in England
    12. Jamie Roberts – Born in Wales
    13. Jonathan Davies – Born in England
    14. Alex Cuthbert – Born in England
    15. Liam Williams – Born in Wales

    6 players born outside Wales. ‘England and New Zealand both have a huge crop of players from this rule’ If England are mentioned as having a large crop of players like this, why aren’t Wales?

    • They were just two examples. But I did say it was a problem all across the rugby world which does include Wales. The overall sentiment is that it is a problem, and I think my solution would help solve it.

      • Ok, I agree, it just irritates me that people always highlight England as ‘stealing players’ when other countries do it just as much.

    • the reason most of these were born outside wales is that they had to be born in a English hospital as it was closer than the nearest one in wales

  4. CaptainCharisma Fani Masakale

    i see nothing wrong in offering the less fortunate players such as Maitland, Aki and all the others who wont be able to feature for their countries of birth, a chance at test rugby..it will be a waste of talent if they were hindered such a chance because of a change in recidency rule – in fact why change??

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