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.

Captured

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.

Changes

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.

Conclusion

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.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Brilliant article Archie. I’m really glad you took that time to summarise all of the eligibility rules given the furore surrounding the recent RWC qualifying situation in Europe.
    I agree that moving the residency rule to 5 years was a great move. Hopefully this will encourage less player poaching from richer unions and developing national teams get to keep more of their better players. I also agree that if you play for an U20s national team, that means you should be captured. Let’s say you had one parent from Wales and one from England, if there was no capture for U20s, you could play for England U20s on your 19th birthday and then play for Wales national side on your 20th. That would just be madness.
    The Olympic route to qualifying is an interesting one. At the recent rugby league world cup they allowed players who have already played for another nation to switch their allegiance to a tier 2 country, which did make the tier 2 countries more competitive. But I personally don’t agree with this as it calls into question the integrity of international competition. So I’m not a big fan of the Olympic route for similar reasons. I’m sure there are people who would disagree with that viewpoint though, because there are players who feel affinity with more than one nation. I think Ma’a Nonu has mentioned the possibility of representing Samoa through the Olympic loophole now that his New Zealand career is over. Anyway, whatever your thoughts it’s an interesting discussion.

  2. It’s interesting with the u20. As many players play for the country that they are studying in. I can see this more in Wales/England. From example Ross Moriarty. But there are more that go to play study in Hartbury etc as so go through the English system.
    When Wales u20 was a captured team (against other u20 capture teams) some English based players would pull out of the squad for fear of being captured.
    My understanding of this was that those Welsh players would then be Welsh qualified and their English clubs would be penalised as they would effect the nEQ quota for clubs.

  3. Nice article Archie. I agree with most of your points, and the sentiment behind them. I’m pretty sure though that the Olympic rule is a condition of a sport being part of the games, and removing it would be extremely difficult.

    I have heard the argument (on the eggchasers podcast) that the concept of capture teams should be put aside. They said only playing for the full international side in either 7s or 15s should prevent someone playing for another team. I think it might work when coupled with the 5 year residency, but I see your argument about the u20s too.

    What do you think about the new informal French requirement that anyone playing for France should have a French passport? It will only be tested when a really good player comes along who they want to and could pick but for the self imposed rule.

    I also saw an idea put forward by some Pacific Island boys (and which George points out above already happens in Rugby League) that players should be allowed to drop down from a higher tier. This might allow, for example, a player who got a cap for the ABs as a youngster but who didn’t manage to establish himself to go on and represent his heritage in a World Cup. What’s your take on that?

  4. Excellent article again, Archie.

    I’d tighten the criteria still further. International rugby is different from club rugby. Certainly among tier one countries it should be played between players from two nations, not players who have moved to that country to make money from playing rugby or because they weren’t good enough to play for their own country.

    Even the five years rule isn’t strong enough to prevent abuse, for example Australia have recently talked about recruiting Pacific Islanders who might qualify for them later. It just encourages the poaching of younger and younger players. And it is especially impacting on the likes of Fiji and Samoa who have fallen so far from their traditional strength. I would scrap the residency rule altogether, except where a child’s family has clearly and obviously moved for non rugby reasons e.g. Joey Carbary.

    I can live with someone like Dylan Hartley representing England, because he had an English parent and clearly grew up with a strong affinity to England. But a single grandparent is too tenuous a link to a country. Take for example Bulls prop Pierre Schoeman, who says he will play for Scotland if he doesn’t make the Springboks. This damages the credibility of a international rugby and I would scrap the grandparent rule.

  5. Great article Archie. After Ben Ryan coached the Fijian 7s he described the situation in the Pacific Nations as being “like the wild west.” Four French clubs have rugby academies at Fijian high schools. They grab them at 17-18yrs old, offer them more money than their entire village makes and next they may be playing for France by 21 yrs old. In recent years France’s test side has featured several Fijian born players. This is destroying Pacific Island rugby, and some say the French test side also.

  6. Nice work. Not too familiar if the law for playing “5 years” in the country is 5 continuous years or 5 years in total. Just realised if it’s the total number of years, technically Akira Ioane can play for Japan if he joins Top League this year (almost impossible but the option might be there).

  7. Very interesting article, feel sure this is something that will become increasingly problematical, as people move about the globe in increasing numbers and distinction between citizenship’s become increasingly blurred.
    I wonder how long before a player seeks to use ‘EU citizen’ status to claim the right to play [employed] for any country in Europe. An English player having never lived in Spain, or have any Spanish relations, may seek to use the following from the EU constitution,

    Rights of free movement
    Right to free movement and residence: a right of free movement and residence throughout the Union and the right to work in any position (including national civil services with the exception of those posts in the public sector that involve the exercise of powers conferred by public law and the safeguard of general interests of the State or local authorities (Article 21) for which however there is no one single definition);
    Freedom from discrimination on nationality: a right not to be discriminated against on grounds of nationality within the scope of application of the Treaty (Article 18);

    Could the 5 year residency rule be challenged in the EU courts ? discrimination , against fundamental rights of EU citizens to live and work in any state !
    Surprised there have not been any cases of EU legal involvement with other sports organisations, or have there ?
    Potentially all that has to happen is for players to complain that their employment rights are being denied by the relevant sporting body [employer] and there is a legal case, could we then see 30 disgruntled players, near the top, from the home nations playing international rugby for Spain via a EU court ruling !

  8. All good points. I am not familiar enough with EU employment rights etc to comment but I understand what you are saying.

  9. To help Pacific Island rugby, I think the question you should ask yourself is, “how is it that in the 2015 rugby World Cup, 30% of those participated are Pacific Islanders yet their home country gets bow out in the pool stages?” Once you’ve honestly evaluated this question, you have your answer about this eligibility rule that is fair especially towards pacific island countries.

  10. I think in any sport, if you want to represent a country, you should have to be a citizen of that country, and renounced your previous citizenship.

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