Selection Policies are now a key part of the modern game with top tier nations trying to keep top players in their domestic leagues.
These range from England, Ireland and New Zealand (among others) who take a no-nonsense approach with players plying their trade abroad to Scotland. Scotland is one of the few top-tier nations who have no laws on selection.
There are 3 key points of selection policies; wildcards, exceptional circumstances and world cup years.
The old Welsh system used to include three “wildcards“. These were players who wouldn’t be selected as they played outside of Wales but were selected. The problem with this system was top players would leave Wales and believe they would be selected as a wildcard. This led to talent being lost as more than three top players left and were relying on the wildcard selection to keep their international career alive.
Both Ireland and England allow “exceptional circumstances” which England have never used. Ireland have only really used this for Sexton. England has refused to use this in three main situations. First and most recently Sam Underhill whilst he was at the Ospreys. Many pundits were calling for the selection of the hard-tackling flanker under the “exceptional circumstances” of him being at university. However, he wasn’t selected till the summer tour to Argentina. At this point move to Bath had been finalised and he was essentially playing in England. Certainly according to the RFU anyway.
The other two cases involve players playing in France. Both had just won European Player of The Year and neither were selected despite their exceptional form. Steffon Armitage and Nick Abendanon, the 2014 and 2015 European players of the year.
In recent years Ireland have only selected from the provinces (Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht.) This leads to Pro12 winner Tadgh Beirne moving to Munster to better his chances of getting an elusive Ireland cap. On the other hand, Gareth Steenson who won the Aviva Premiership with Exeter is staying on the English south coast hoping to win a second title. Whilst Ireland are yet to solidify a back up to Jonny Sexton for the RWC next year.
Jonny Sexton is one of the very few Ireland internationals who won a cap whilst playing their domestic rugby outside of the provinces. Whilst at Racing 92 between 2013 and 2015 coach Joe Schmidt refused to drop the formidable fly-half. He proved his worth on both the 2013 and 2017 Lions tours playing in all 6 tests. The Leinster man has made 68 appearances in the green jersey and has scored 639 points. This makes him the second highest points scorer for Ireland only behind Ronan O’Gara.
World Cup years
Selection for Argentinian internationals between World Cups means they have to play in Argentina. Most likely with their Super Rugby team Jaguares. This leads to the players knowing each other’s game very well but less squad depth as well as less depth in style of play. However, during World Cup years players outside Argentina can play obviously to increase their chances of emulating their 4th place finish in 2015 (and 3rd in 2007).
This means Toulon star Facundo Isa can play in 2019 but not 2018 or 2020. The fact that there is only one team in Argentina competing in one of the big leagues means a selection policy like the one they currently use limits their ability to grow and improve. For a selection policy so limiting a country, in my opinion, needs at least four domestic teams.
In my opinion, the best selection policies are the strictest such as in England, Ireland and New Zealand. These work because they leave no room for interpretations and allow no special treatment to certain players. The one problem with these type of policies is that you need plenty of domestic teams. This can be just four as shown by Ireland, however, all of these teams need to be competitive. This is why a system so strict wouldn’t work in Wales, as only one or two of the regions are truly competitive. The new Welsh system is the second best option as it allows some players to leave and play elsewhere which gives opportunities to new younger players who are just emerging.
Finally, the worst selection policy is that of Argentina. It stifles development, ruins squad depth, stops young players emerging and makes players choose between their domestic and national career. I would love to hear your opinions on selection policies.
Which ones do you think work and how they should improve? Do you think it would impact the current Six Nations if sides were more (or less) strict?
Author: Ollie Evans
I’m from South Wales and have grown up with rugby all around me and the Millenium Stadium on my doorstep. A massive fan of all things rugby, but never been particularly good despite having played since I was 6.