The Australian Rugby Union has been left fuming after a tricky contracting situation has forced them to release Queensland duo Liam Gill and Greg Holmes to their European clubs.
Holmes and Gill were set to be part of the Wallabies’ plans for the Rugby Championship, but have been contracted to their new clubs Exeter and Toulon, respectively.
The situation is a complex one, with European contracts starting on August 1 and Australian deals winding up on December 31, meaning the pair are effectively concurrently signed, something that technically breaches signing standards.
Generally, players in Test contention who have spent at least seven consecutive years in Australian rugby are allowed early releases after the final Bledisloe, which this year falls on October 22.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said he really had no choice but to endorse the decision, for the benefit of the players.
“Yeah, could play hard ball and all of that business but where’s the bonus for me to cost Liam Gill his [European] contract?,” he said.
“If he really wants to go that much he doesn't want to play for Australia, then that's it, but at the same time, the rules are in place for a reason and we shouldn't have to be making these decisions.”
Cheika took a swipe at the agents in the negotiations, accusing them of flouting the rules.
“Maybe, the agents haven't taken the ARU seriously,” he said.
“The reality is the player has a contract and it's only because we're being nice people that they're being allowed to fulfil those.”
ARU general manager of high performance Ben Whitaker, who manages player contracting at the national body, expressed his frustrations that the organisation was put in the corner.
"If a contract runs until 31 December and any agent gets a player to sign a contract which commences on 1 August, he is forcing his client to breach his standard player contract,” he said in a statement.
"There’s a responsibility that agents represent the best interest of their clients, however any breach of Player Agent Regulations is putting players at risks of fines and sanctions, which is of great concern for the game.
"This decision has not been made lightly, however we have put the best interest of the players first."
Cheika said while they’d been compassionate this time, they wouldn’t be so forgiving if this situation happened again.
“It won’t happen again,” he said.
"These (decisions) have been made on compassionate grounds because these guys have been put in awkward situations by their management.”
The Rugby Union Players’ Association controls the accreditation of agents and CBA negotiations, though Cheika said the players' union weren't to blame for the conflicts.
“Basically, a player like Gill who I wanted to have in the squad and Holmes, a player of national interest, who is likely to play in this series, pretty much declined to come in because they're in an awkward situation,” he said.
“It's certainly not their (RUPA’s) fault that people aren't doing it as it's prescribed so I'm sure they'll be on board with wanting...any agreements between the players’ union and the unions to be maintained going forward.”
RUPA CEO Ross Xenos backed the ARU’s stance in a statement on Saturday, pointing to the Agent Accreditation Scheme as an avenue for players who feel they’ve been detoured by their management.
“If any player believes that they have been misled or misrepresented by their Agent, the existence of the Scheme provides great peace of mind that an appropriate channel is available for players to make their grievances known. Players are well aware of the Scheme and that any dispute will be dealt with in a transparent and professional manner. There are no such disputes currently before the Agent Accreditation Board.”
“RUPA’s longer term concern is that without an alignment in the global Rugby calendar and more robust management of Regulation 9 by World Rugby, these kinds of club versus country conflicts will be very hard to eliminate.
“That places the careers of players and the integrity of Australian Rugby at serious risk. We will continue to support ARU in their approaches to World Rugby on these critical matters.”
Dave Dennis and Joe Tomane have also been given early releases, though neither of those players was going to be involved in the Rugby Championship.