After the Rugby Europe Championship 2018 came to a conclusion, there has been a lot of discussions about eligibility laws as a few of the competing countries could have had non-qualified players playing for their teams.
What makes this a bigger issue than if this happened a few years ago, is this year and last year’s Rugby Europe Championship Tournaments were a qualification route to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
You can’t have countries potentially breaking the rules to get into the World Cup, can you?
This is part of the reason why I feel that World Rugby Regulation 8 “Eligibility to play for national representative teams” is too complicated and needs a change to be looked at immediately.
Discussion around the eligibility crisis and the second tier of European rugby can be found here.
The basic guidelines
If you were born in a country then you can play for their national team. If your parents or grandparents were born in the country you wish to play for, then that’s ok as well.
There are also a couple of other ways you can get in as well. If you live in the country for 3 years then you qualify. However in 2020 that is changing to 5 years which I believe is an excellent change. It gives foreign players more time to feel part of the country’s culture and no longer potentially an outsider. If you spend 10 years of cumulative residence (part-time) in that nation then you are allowed to play as well which is pretty fair. Certainly from where I am sitting anyway.
That is the simple stuff and here is when it gets more complicated.
This is when you can only play for the country that you have qualified to play for. When you win an official cap for your country in a proper international game (for example not against the Barbarians) you have been captured. If you play for a country’s 2nd team, you are captured by that nation as well. However, a country can no longer nominate their U20s team to be their 2nd side – the 2nd side must not be age restricted.
For rugby sevens, it’s a bit different. If you have played in an Olympic Sevens tournament or Sevens World Cup and are over the age of 18, you are stuck with that country. In an HSBC World Series competition, you have to be over 20 to be captured.
Olympic Sevens’ anomalous law
Here is a way to play for another country in the Olympic Games once you been captured by a country. If you have not played for your captured country for the last 18 months and have a passport to your new country then you are free to play for them only in the Olympic Games.
I don’t understand why you can be allowed to do that?
Even if it’s just one small aspect of rugby, it harms the integrity of our international game. Why are you allowed to switch countries especially after such a short period of living there? This must end as it’s just a legal way to bend the rules in my opinion.
This is my plan to sort out the “capture” element of International Rugby:
- Remove the existing Olympics law/rule
- If you have played for a country’s U20s team, you are bound to that country. This shouldn’t apply to U18s or below. That would be unfair for example, if your parents wanted your family to live in a nation you don’t want to represent. However, by U20s you are officially an adult and can decide where to live for yourself.
- Playing for a sevens national team at the age of 18 or 19 should mean you are only allowed to represent that country. It shouldn’t matter if you are playing in the World Series or in the World Cup.
- If you represent your national side in a non-cap game, you should still be captured to that country.
I know this is pretty one-sided, but I am really against switching country once you have played for their national team. I am very happy about World Rugby changing the residency rule from 3 to 5 years for 2020. This provides a significant amount of time for a player to have been genuinely adopted by his/her chosen nation. Hopefully, if these changes were to happen, we could all finally feel we are watching OUR country play rugby!
As an interesting aside, Tahiti were disqualified for fielding ineligible players so it stands to reason that teams in Europe will face the same consequences.
I appreciate that this is could be a polarising opinion and I would suggest it sparks debate. Respectful debate is what we need around this subject as it is the Rugby World Cup and its Integrity at stake.
Author: Archie Craigie Halkett
Hi, my name is Archie Craigie Halkett. I am a massive Scottish rugby fan. I’m involved with the game quite a lot. I play rugby for my school and my local rugby club. I am a level one qualified rugby referee and a regular contributor to off-line and on-line rugby magazines/publications.