Richard Bath: Mercenaries ruining international rugby
IT’S time for the International Rugby Board to change the rules on eligibility.
At the moment, all a player needs to do to be eligible to play for a country on the grounds of residency is to live there for three years and to not have played for his “home” country’s “A” team (or equivalent).
It’s a system that is horribly open to abuse. Four current England players – Kiwis Dylan Hartley and Thomas Waldrom, and South Africans Brad Barritt and Mauritz Botha – were born elsewhere and came to the country as grown men. A whole stack more of South Africans, predominantly at Saracens, will soon be eligible to play for England.
The situation in the Southern Hemisphere is even more advanced, with the Aussies openly recruiting talented Polynesians into their academies with a view to being eligible for the Wallabies in three years’ time. In New Zealand an ever-increasing percentage of All Blacks now originate from the Pacific Islands.
At the recent Scottish Rugby Union annual general meeting, new chief executive Mark Dodson was asked about what are being called “project players” – those who are brought in specifically to plug a perceived gap at Test level. The shorthand of “doing a Visser” was jokingly used, although that’s unfair to the Dutchman who came to Edinburgh to play for the Gunners and who, in any case, doesn’t have his own Test-playing rugby nation to represent.
“We’re not scouring the world for project players,” said Dodson, “but we’ve got a very small playing pool and if England have got five project players and they have got ten times as many players as us, it does show you that this is a global sport and that we have to be globally aware.”
That sounds uncomfortably like an admission that Scotland will be following England down a line which is already beginning to distort and corrupt Test rugby. Indeed, the first of those projects has arrived on our shores. Former Cheetahs tighthead WP Nel, left, is said to be a fantastic player and the 26-year-old will no doubt do Edinburgh proud, but it’s no coincidence that he’s arrived just in time to be eligible for the 2015 World Cup.
Dodson and national coach Andy Robinson are professionals who have a job to do, and of course they will try to level the playing field as best they can. But the way to do this is not to get down and dirty with England and Australia, but to go back to five years’ residency and perhaps even place a limit of three or four residency-qualified players who can play in any one team at the same time. Alternatively, Mark Dodson could always raise some money for the Union by televising the meeting where he tells Moray Low and Geoff Cross that they won’t be playing in the next World Cup because Nel has bagged the No.1 shirt just weeks after becoming eligible. Lots of people would pay good money to witness that chat.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
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Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
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