Tuesday 12 December 2017

World Rugby extends residency rule to five years to end 'project players'

Ireland's CJ Stander has been one of many 'Project Players' in the last few years
Ireland's CJ Stander has been one of many 'Project Players' in the last few years

Duncan Bech

World Rugby has voted to increase the required residency period to be eligible for international rugby from three to five years.

The sport's global governing body approved the recommended extension that has been driven by vice-chairman Agustin Pichot at a council meeting held in Kyoto on Wednesday.

It is hoped that raising the level from 36 to 60 months will safeguard the playing resources of smaller nations - particularly the Pacific Island teams - by discouraging their stars from pledging allegiance to other countries.

All four starting wings in France's Test against Australia last autumn were of Fijian origin, while England have also benefited through the previous three-year residency requirement by picking Nathan Hughes, Semesa Rokoduguni and most recently Denny Solomona.

In addition the decision effectively ends 'project players', the controversial policy of players - such as South African-born Ireland flanker CJ Stander - being lured away by other nations with the intention of representing them in the Test arena when eligible.

"This is an historic moment for the sport and a great step towards protecting the integrity, ethos and stature of international rugby," Pichot said.

"National team representation is the reward for devoting your career and your rugby life to your nation.

"These amendments will ensure that the international arena is full of players devoted to their nation, who got there on merit."

France were already observing their own five-year rule for newly-selected players and the increase, which crucially will now encompass two World Cup cycles, had support from the Rugby Football Union.

"This reform of Regulation 8 governing eligibility is an important and necessary step to protecting the integrity and credibility of international rugby," World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said.

"This extension to the residency period within a forward-thinking reform package will ensure a close, credible and established link between a union and players, which is good for rugby and good for fans.

"I would like to thank my union colleagues for their support and in particular the leadership role that Agustin Pichot played in this very important process that has delivered an outcome that is good for the global game."

A World Rugby statement added: "It was determined that regulation 8 was not in step with the modern game, did not provide an adequate framework to protect the integrity of the international game and does not provide a deterrent to player drain from emerging rugby nations."

England prospect Denny Solomona and Connacht centre Bundee Aki will not be affected by the rule change as World Rugby will include a cooling-off grace period before enforcing any residency-rule extension, to stop players being caught in limbo.

The new initiative will come into force when the global calendar is re-structured in 2020.

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