It’s a big week in rugby with the World Cup draw on Wednesday in Kyoto, Japan, who host the 2019 tournament.
Scotland find themselves in the second band of qualifiers alongside France, South Africa and Wales. If they’re lucky, Gregor Townsend’s men will get drawn with Australia or Ireland from band one rather than New Zealand or England, then Japan or Georgia from the third band rather than Fiji or Argentina. The threats continue in band four, where Tonga and Samoa await.
But that isn’t the most important decision to come out of Kyoto next week because World Rugby will be voting on extending the three-year residency rule that allows players to jump nationalities with all the ease of a flea on a globe.
This was the cause adopted by World Rugby’s vice chairman, Argentine Agustin Pichot, and if it comes to fruition next week he will be the one getting the pats on the back. We have to hope so.
The three-year rule undermines the poorest nations of the rugby world, especially the Pacific Islands, and it further empowers the richest, namely France and England. The money on offer in club rugby in those two big economies attracts players from across the globe and after three years, the space of one contract, they become eligible to play for England/France.
France have led the way, picking only those with a French passport. England will vote for five years and Ireland are said to have changed their mind, perhaps in return for a vote in the RWC’23 beauty contest, and backed the extension.
All of which leaves Murrayfield isolated, standing Canute like against the tide of time and not for the first time. Murrayfield has a fine tradition of being on the wrong side of history, arguing strongly against the inaugural World Cup.
The Six Nations is the golden goose but the SRU is slowly throttling it, blissfully unaware of the real battle for the game’s soul. The English/French clubs have already effectively taken over European rugby, this week they are expected to remove the clause that ensures every country is represented in the Champions Cup and they recently demanded the Six Nations takes place over six weeks rather than seven to impinge less on their season.
By allowing the lines between Test rugby and the club game to become increasingly blurred, the Mr Magoos in Murrayfield are undermining everything that makes international rugby special – the fact that it is supposed to be a contest, as the name suggests, between two nations.