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Eligibility change means Ireland could face stiffer test at 2023 Rugby World Cup


World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte. Photo: David Rogers

World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte. Photo: David Rogers

World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte. Photo: David Rogers

World rugby has loosened its eligibility laws in a move that could make life a little harder for Ireland at the 2023 World Cup.

Tonga and Samoa look set to be the biggest beneficiaries of the rule change which will allow capped players to change national allegiances once they can demonstrate a connection to the nation they’re changing to and have not played for a country for 36 months from 2022.

It means Tonga could have Wallaby Israel Folau and All Blacks Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala and Charles Piutau on board for the 2023 World Cup in France, while Samoa could call on New Zealand cap Steven Luatua and Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen amongst others.

That should allow the Pacific Island teams to be more competitive in France, a tournament where one – most likely Tonga – will be in Ireland’s pool.

Former Samoa captain Dan Leo has been advocating for the change for some time, yet it was still a surprise that the vote reached the 75pc pass mark yesterday.

“Approval of this landmark regulatory change is the culmination of detailed and widespread modelling and consultation across the game,” World Rugby president Bill Beaumont said.

“We have listened to our membership and players and sought to update the regulation recognising the modern professional rugby environment without compromising the integrity of the international game,” added the former English international.

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World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte agreed.

“We have listened to our membership and honoured our pledge to undertake a wide-ranging review of this important regulation,” he said.

“We have consulted, sought feedback from our unions, regions and most importantly to players’ representatives, before making a recommendation to the council.

“This change to how international rugby operates will provide transformational opportunities to players with dual backgrounds, providing they meet the key criteria sets out in the regulation 8.”

Meanwhile, the 2027 Men’s Rugby World Cup looks set to be held in Australia, with the United States the preferred bidder for the 2031 tournament.

England will host the 2025 Women’s World Cup, as World Rugby moves to a new model in the wake of the farce that saw France win the rights to host 2023 despite South Africa being the preferred bidder.

World Rugby has also opened up a channel with the professional leagues in a chance to bring about greater alignment between competing interests that so often pull the game in different directions.

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