|Photo Sporting Life|
Comments made by IRB CEO Brett Gosper at a news conference in London have inadvertently brought into question the international selection policies of a number of rugby's leading test nations. In speaking out against the modification of the existing IRB eligibility laws the Australian administrator brought into serious question the validity of nations restricting selection to players based at home.
Under IRB Regulation 8.1 a player can qualify to represent a test team at international level by meeting one of the following three criteria:
(a) he was born; or
(b) one parent or grandparent was born; or
(c) he has completed thirty six consecutive months of Residence immediately preceding the time of playing.
The third point has been severely challenged in recent weeks following the public announcement by Bundee Aki. The New Zealander told the media "If I play three years over there and it doesn't go well, I can always go back to Samoa."The uncapped twenty-four year old has signed to play in the Rabo Direct Pro 12 for Irish province Connacht and has stated his desire to play at test level for Ireland despite not being Irish and never having lived either in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland.
Aki qualifies for Samoa based on (b) of IRB Regulation 8.1 and will qualify for Ireland based on (c) after he has played for three years in the Emerald Isle. Yet in moving to Ireland Aki is not able to play for New Zealand and can therefore not satisfy (a) of IRB Regulation 8.1. The NZRU, like Australia and England, refuses to select players based abroad for international duty.
Aki has been a strong performer for the Chiefs but remains uncapped and is behind a number of noteworthy centres including Ryan Crotty, Ma'a Nonu Francis Saili, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith and Tongan Malakai Fekitoa who qualifies for New Zealand. Moreover Sonny Bill Williams will be back with the Chiefs in 2015.
Aki's comments sparked outrage with calls subsueqently being made to change (c) to five years. Such a change would significantly complicate the possibiltiy of Aki playing for Ireland and would very likely act as a deterrent for others. Ireland is on track to cap former New Zealand Under 21 and Super Rugby player Jared Payne this year. The Ulster utility back will meet (c) in the autumn and could debut in November.
In November 2012 Keith Wood commented on the selection of Michael Bent for Ireland in saying "I find that wrong. There is something unpalatable about a guy who hasn't played a game in this country to go and play [for Ireland]."
Brett Gosper has made it known that no changes will be made. In attempting to prevent the controversy from going on any further the 54 year old Australian said that the decision over patriotism over a possible professional career abroad would continue to come down to the choice of the individual.
Gosper stated that "players have got to be able to ply their trade where they want to ply their trade." Such words bring into question the legitimacy of nations refusing to select players based abroad. Indeed, should Gosper's logic be utilized then Steffon Armitage should be playing for England. The policy saw Stephen Donald play in the Rugby World Cup final while Nick Evans was not eligible despite winning the 2010-2011 Amlin Challenge Cup and the 2011-2012 Aviva Premiership.
Potential Rugby World Cup 2023 host nation Argentina was one of only three countries at Rugby World Cup 2011 to have no players born or raised abroad selected in its thirty man squad. The two others were Georgia and Romania. Sixteen of Samoa's thirty players were New Zealanders. Argentina will ban European based players from playing for Los Pumas after Rugby World Cup 2015. Those in Argentina or playing Super Rugby for other franchises will be eligible.