‘No appetite’ for change to rugby’s three-year residency rule

South African-born W P Nel performed well for Scotland in the World Cup, where many nations capitalised on the three-year residency rule. Picture: SNS/SRU
South African-born W P Nel performed well for Scotland in the World Cup, where many nations capitalised on the three-year residency rule. Picture: SNS/SRU
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There is, I am told, “no appetite” within World Rugby for changing the three-year residency rule that enabled South African-born WP Nel and Josh Strauss to don the blue of Scotland and play in the recent World Cup with some distinction. Arguably the status quo suits Scotland who, along with almost every other nation except Argentina and Georgia, now has a formal strategy of importing foreigners to make them eligible and increase the player pool. The Edinburgh duo of Cornel du Preez and Anton Bresler will both be qualified well before the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the likes of Phil Burleigh and Nasi Manu may also be interested – it’s difficult to be exact and the SRU are a little coy about who is a “project” player and who might simply qualify by accident, so to speak.

The SRU appointed Ben Atiga as their “relocation expert” – nice work if you can get it – so it doesn’t look like Murrayfield’s policy is going to change any time soon.

We have just had a cracking World Cup, the best perhaps, although I still have a fondness for the 1995 edition, but am I alone in thinking that the sight of South Africans, New Zealanders and various itinerant islanders, especially Fijian wingers, flying flags of convenience undermines the integrity of international rugby and leaves a bad taste in the mouth?

The three-year residency rule also means that sevens has a different qualification rule to 15s, which seems absurd. Because sevens in now an Olympic sport it goes by passport. Why not make 15s do the same? It won’t stop players moving country to help further their international ambitions but it means that they would have to show a degree of dedication to their adopted country because, as things stand, three years is the length of one contract if you have a half-competent agent.

Japan were lauded for their giant-killing efforts during this year’s tournament and rightly so, but one of the reasons they beat South Africa was because four forwards and one back were foreign. Desperate to do well on home soil, you wonder how many native Japanese will be selected when the host nation kicks off the Rugby World Cup in 2019.

When national teams resemble the likes of Toulon or Saracens with their multinational squads plucked from all corners of the globe, what then will differentiate Test match rugby from the club game? The answer is very little, and it is time that World Rugby recognised the fact and acted accordingly.

IF World Rugby insists on doing nothing about qualification then the use of the TMO which blighted some World Cup ties, at least those refereed by Jaco Peyper, is being examined by a working party headed by former Irish referee Alain Rolland. The Sanzac trio allegedly want to limit the TMO’s use to the act of scoring, and any foul play, rather than allow the referee to go back two phases before the try. That seems like a good start. Too many referees abdicate their responsibility because they know they have the safety net of the TMO. We already have three sets of eyes on the action, perhaps the 15-man game should introduce another two refs in the in-goal area and be done with the TMO altogether?

THERE are only two leading countries in the world where the union does not have control over their players via central contracts... France and England. The very same two countries who performed abysmally in the recent Rugby World Cup – which begs the question whether the Top 14 and the Aviva Premiership are good preparation for international rugby.

Those “Frenglish” leagues tend to be very physical, and there is nothing wrong with that. There is more than one way to play the game. Anyway it is not easy making physical superiority count on the scoreboard and it would be a shame if every team attempted to play the game the same way. I am a sucker for a cliché. I want England to field a monster pack of forwards and kick to the corners just as I wish Wales would make better use of the boundless talent in their backs. I don’t want everyone to emulate New Zealand. While it sounds like a good idea it would soon pale, not least because few countries have sufficiently talented players to pull it off.

France had access to their players for several months in the lead-up to this World Cup but were hopeless, well beaten by Ireland before being humiliated by New Zealand. England were better, arguably unlucky in losing to Wales, but they barely put up a fight when everything was on the line against Australia, pictured left, and what the hell happened to their tight forwards?

England need central contracts for their best 60 players but the clubs have too much power for the RFU to risk antagonising them by suggesting such a move so little will change unless and until the next generation of world-class players comes along and you wonder if it is already showing. How would the likes of Jonathan Joseph, George Ford and Joe Launchbury have developed if they been brought up in Super Rugby instead? A little higher qualified and, I would hazard, a little better at making split-second decisions in the heat of the moment.

England are ranked eighth in the world, one place above their next opponents Scotland. With the stakes high and rising by the week, there is plenty resting on the Calcutta Cup come 6 February.

THE New Zealand match is off, sorry, although you maybe didn’t realise a game against the world champs had ever been on! It was originally scheduled for the summer of next year. Scotland are going on a two-Test tour of Japan and they had included a one-off game against the All Blacks on the way home after the hosts had already played a gruelling three-Test series against Wales. In truth the match was shoehorned into the schedules (to give Scotland some tier one opposition) and it suited neither side. It also fell outside the World Rugby Test window so it’s not clear who would be available to play. As a result it has been quietly shelved. Instead the Scots are looking to fill the weekend before the first Japanese Test with an extra international. They could play someone in Hong Kong or they could turn right at Heathrow and play Canada or the USA Eagles on their way to Japan. Watch this space.

IT rather got lost in the white noise surrounding Stuart Lancaster’s defenestration last week but World Rugby announced a shake-up of its governance, giving a vote to any country that has qualified for two World Cups in succession, albeit with a few kickers attached, and offering two votes to each of the six regional rugby boards instead of one. It is a democratic move, spreading power from the big ten to some of second-tier countries without matching football’s disastrous one-nation, one-vote policy which resulted in decades of dishonesty. Also, a new streamlined 12-man executive committee will be able to take any pressing decisions in between meetings of the full committee. The changes will apply from May 2016.

WE have all heard the philosophical teaser; if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to witness it, has it really happened? Rugby’s equivalent is this; if a national coaching post becomes vacant and Jake White doesn’t apply for it via the media, is there really an opening?