Tony Ward: New World leaders must tackle ludicrous residency rule
Published 17/09/2016 | 02:30
When Bill Beaumont and Agustin Pichot were elected World Rugby chairman and vice-chairman in May, the big issues facing them were the rugby calendar and the three-year residency rule, which is making a mockery of international rugby.
And yes, I know that Ireland has been using and abusing the opportunistic mercenary madness as much as anyone.
When it comes to administration - as opposed to coaching - I believe that an illustrious playing career is a big advantage, and former England and Lions captain Beaumont and the more recently retired Puma scrum-half Pichot certainly deliver in that respect.
I can't say I know Pichot but I love the way he went about his business as a player. I do know Beaumont, and suffice to say World Rugby has a potentially great administrative leader at the helm.
The residency rule farce is clearly a black and white issue, but the pair's time has been taken up tackling the playing calendar, attempting to align the hemispheres.
What is proposed is a victory for common sense. It does not represent revolutionary change but it is pragmatic, and applicable to mutual benefit on both sides of the equator.
With the Six Nations (February to March) and World Cup (September to October every four years) left untouched, the main changes surround the June tour for the big six Northern Hemisphere nations being scrapped in the summer following a World Cup.
Given that the timing of the World Cup already removes the November series from the calendar every four years, that evens things up somewhat and much more importantly improves player welfare, whereby you won't get a two-year double season, as experienced by a number of international sides in 2015/16.
The Welsh are a case in point: a tough, highly competitive World Cup with all the preparation that entailed followed by a Six Nations campaign, and then a three-Test series and ritual flogging in New Zealand.
Ireland didn't fare much better, with a three-Test tour to South Africa, although compared to traipsing the Land of the Long White Cloud at this point in time, even mounting the High Veld is a breeze.
Elsewhere, it is proposed that the English Premiership and Guinness Pro12 will kick off a few weeks later (the French Top 14 has that option but will no doubt still hit the now familiar crack of dawn start), with the finals in all three competitions to finish at the end of June.
The intention is to coincide as closely as possible with the Super Rugby finale down south.
The 2021 Lions tour to South Africa is scheduled for July into August.
There is still some fine-tuning to be done, not least in relation to the financial ramifications, but it all appears eminently feasible.
There are other advantages.
The removal of June touring every four years opens a window of opportunity for emerging nations to benefit from matches against top tier sides.
On balance, the proposed new season (still to be discussed and ratified in November) will make for greater continuity for the SANZAR countries and Argentina, but then bear in mind the travel complexities they face when compared to European counterparts.
Now, here's hoping Beaumont and Pichot quickly turn their attention to the ludicrous three-year residency rule. Pichot has already spoken about the issue, and I share his anger at this betrayal of birthright.
I am not questioning the commitment of the likes of CJ Stander, Richardt Strauss or a Jared Payne when putting on a green jersey, but the principle of qualifying by dint of a contract after a three-year stint is plain wrong.
A five-year incubation period should be the absolute minimum - if at all.
I would have no problem whatsoever if World Rugby determined that eligibility should be based on bloodlines alone. Yes, give me Grannygate ahead of 36 paltry months to an Ireland shirt every time.
No doubt we are entering human rights territory here, but surely heritage or place of birth should be the criteria to wearing an international shirt? God do I hate that IRFU term 'Project Player', even though I have no axe to grind with all those foreign players wearing green right now - they are operating within the law.
There are special cases, with Joey Carbery a prime example, having moved from New Zealand to Athy when he was 12, although he also has Irish blood.
According to World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper "there hasn't been any appetite for change (to the three year rule). The day that people don't believe they are watching bona fide internationals then you got problems".
I believe we are already at that stage. Thankfully so too does the new vice chairman, and he is now within the tent to do something about it.
Just because almost every country - Argentina being the most notable exception - is playing by this opportunistic law, it doesn't make it right.
The newly proposed global calendar suggests that we now have assertive leadership in World Rugby from individuals who understand rugby.
Long may they reign.