The move to increase rugby’s controversial international residency rule from three to five years is gathering pace with reports that Australia and New Zealand are set to make a U-turn and back the longer qualifying period.
The Sydney Morning Herald claimed that the four SANZAR nations of South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina are now on the verge of voting as a regional bloc at the World Rugby Council meeting in May, which is likely to give the proposal the 75 per cent backing to go through.
Last autumn the Australian Rugby Union had reiterated its support for the status quo, allying itself with the unions of Scotland, Wales and Ireland, who currently oppose any change.
But Scotland coach Vern Cotter diverged from the SRU position at Wednesday’s launch of the 2017 Six Nations in London when he said a change to five years was “probably a good thing”.
The Scots have benefited from the residency rule, with the likes of Tim Visser, WP Nel and Josh Strauss all being capped after serving the three-year period, and Cotter named South Africa-born loose forward Cornell du Preez, who qualified for Scotland via the rule last September, in his Six Nations squad
earlier this month.
The ARU chairman Bill Pulver was on record only four months ago as saying any extension of the eligibility period could lead to players being lost to rugby league and pointing out that people could become an Australian citizen after four years of residency.
“It would be a pretty bizarre scenario where you could be allowed by the government to be a citizen of the country but not allowed to play for their team,” Pulver said in October. “And to me a far bigger issue World Rugby should be collectively dealing with is that French and English clubs are raiding all of our countries of our players, which is having an incredibly disruptive impact on domestic competitions around the world.”
However, Australian media reported yesterday that there had been a change of heart, with Pulver’s time spent on the World Rugby working group investigating the issue cited as the catalyst for his altered viewpoint.
The current residency rule allows players to qualify for a country they have no birth or bloodline connection to after three years living there and has been criticised as undermining the international game.
The change campaign has been led by World Rugby vice-chairman and former Argentina international Agustin Pichot, who described the three-year rule as “wrong” and was particularly scathing of the plundering of the Pacific island nations.
The English RFU now backs change and FFR president Bernard Laporte has declared that France will only select players with a French passport.