Naturalization v Nurture: Who Wins from Rugby's Eligibility Laws?

Are countries taking advantage of lax international rugby laws?

In 2015 during the Rugby world cup which was hosted by England, we had 125 rugby players who were not born in the countries they played for. At the time the number appeared too high to me. But fast forward four years left, that number has increased to 134.

Betway stated in a recent article that countries are obviously taking advantage of the lax international rugby laws. This year we will have fourteen players representing Scotland who were not born in Scotland. Seven players in the Welsh squad were not born in Wales, Six of the players New Zealand have named for the world cup were not born in New Zealand.

The international Rugby law stipulates that a player can play for any club for which they have been residence for at least three years. This very lax law has made it possible for countries such as Tonga, Samoa and Japan to name a squad for the world cup that contains more foreign born players than home grown ones. Aside the aforementioned countries, the likes of Scotland, the USA and Australia have a considerable number of foreign born players in their world cup party.

Change in law

As stated, the current law allows a player who has been living and playing in a particular country for at least three years to represent that country in international rugby championships. But that law is about to change to five years which puts it in line with what is currently obtainable in football.

The change in law is coming on the heels of outcry by many Rugby lovers the world over after several high profile names were omitted from their countries world cup squads in favour of foreign born players who have naturalised.

England in particular have always been the subject of criticism for past world cups and it seems the leopard hasn’t changed it spot yet as the English have named scrum-half Willi Heinz who based on his birth country should be playing for New Zealand in their world cup squad. Willi Heinz only has three caps to his name but has made it to the world cup.

England’s neighbour Ireland have also been heavily criticised for taking advantage of the lax rugby laws to name South Africa born Jean Kleyn in their squad ahead of the much established Devin Toner who already has 67-caps. It is even worst when you consider that Jean Kleyn only qualified to represent Ireland in August.

Come the end of the 2020, the law will however change and countries will then only be able to call upon players who have lived in their countries for at least five years. This change is been driven by former Argentina international Agustin Pichot who is the world rugby union vice president.

The new law when enacted will help protect the smaller countries who have suffered heavily from the bigger countries poaching their talents.

While some countries will be happy with the new law, some countries will be heavily hit. Japan for instance will be greatly hit by the new law when it comes into being. The Japanese lucrative Top Rugby competition makes it possible for them to lure classy players from around the world with most of their foreign born players being able to represent Japan international after just three years of playing in the Japanese league.

The change in law will initially see a change in fortune for the Brave Blossoms who will need to from 2020 depend more on local talents. Although this is likely to see a dip in performance for the Asians, the youngsters who hitherto get overlooked for the foreigners will get the chances they deserve.

Tonga, Samoa, Scotland, the USA and Australia will also be heavily hit once the new change becomes a law. However, it is important to note that although the likes of Tonga and Samoa as well as Fiji who have many foreign born players in their squads will be heavily hit by the new law, these countries have tons of players who were born in other countries but who will be eligible to represent any of the aforementioned countries due to their family ties.

Although it will be bitter sweet for the likes of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, the same cannot be said of the likes of Japan, Scotland and Australia who will need to start brooding their own talents from the end of the 2020 season.

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