World Rugby To Review International Eligibility Rules

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The review would focus on the controversial three-year residency rule for test eligibility as the global movement of players continues to expand.

“I think obviously there is a concentration of club wealth in the northern hemisphere, there’s no question that the salaries are very high in France and in England and it’s very tempting for players to ply their trade in the northern hemisphere,” Gosper said.

“Each union in the southern hemisphere must find ways so that it’s attractive still for those players to remain where they are, playing in SANZAR competitions, playing with the union they’ve grown up with and so on, but in terms of the residency laws, this was looked at a few years ago and it was determined that the laws as they were seemed to be right for that particular time.

“That was about three or four years ago. I know that [World Rugby] president [Bernard] Lapasset has indicated that this may be something we need to look at again in the future, and look at whether the three-year residency is enough to ensure that integrity of the international game, so that may be something that may need to be looked at.”

Pressed on whether the sheer volume of players – and their young age – who have shifted countries had hastened the need for a review, Gosper said: “You want to preserve the specialness of the international game and therefore while club sides are gathering all-stars from around the world, and top international players, I think there is a feeling that there has to be some steps taken to ensure that the profile of the national team has that integrity, so I think in the mind of president Lapasset, who’s suggested we do look at this, that would be something that we’re considering.”

Any change to the rule would have enormous global implications. France selected players from South Africa, Fiji and New Zealand (of Samoan heritage) in this year’s Six Nations, while Ireland have handed Brian O’Driscoll’s famous No 13 jersey to a New Zealander, Jared Payne. Scotland have been buying up young South Africans, New Zealanders and Australians for a number of years with a view to ‘converting’ them after the three-year residency period.

For the Wallabies, it would be something of a double-edged sword. International recruiters, especially the French, are clearly targeting young, uncapped Australians such as Paul Alo-Emile, but on the other hand an extension to the three-year period could hit the likes of rising Rebels winger Sefanaia Naivalu, a Fijian. Henry Speight, another Fijian import, would still not be eligible if, for example, the residency period was lengthened to five years.

The three-year residency period has been lambasted for being too short, allowing players to effectively change nationality with too much ease, and Gosper suggested that opinion was gathering strength in the top echelons of the governing body.

“When that [the residency rule] was determined, I don’t think there was quite the flow of of players in international movement that it’s become in recent years, through Europe and Japan, and so on,” he said. “So maybe it’s time to take a look at that, and see if that’s correct or some adjustment needs to be made.”

Such a change is not an immediate possibility. “That’s something that would have to be voted on by the World Rugby council,” Gosper said. “It’s not just a simple decision. It would be the result of some work by a working group and then a vote and so on, and require quite strong support for any change to be made to the residency rules.”

Gosper also reaffirmed his determination to keep enforcing the so-called ‘Regulation 9’, the World Rugby rule that forces clubs to release their players for international duties. “It’s critical that those players are available because international rugby drives in large part the economics of the game,” Gosper said. “We’re determined to protect Reg 9, which protects the international game.”



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