Residency change to 'preserve the integrity' of rugby

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The next ‘Tongan Thor’ will likely have to wait five years to be eligible to play for Australia, with new residency requirements to come into place, ARU CEO Bill Pulver says.

Currently, players who are born in a different country from where they wish to play have to live in their adopted home for at least three years before becoming Test eligible.

That is set to change, with World Rugby initiating a move to extend the waiting period to five years, amid a changing global landscape.

Bernard Laporte hasn't wasted much time in making bold statements as FFR president. Photo: AFPIt’s a concept the European nations have championed and France recently took it a step further, with the FFR instilling a policy that any new Test player must hold a French passport.

Australia has benefited from the 36-month rule twice in the past three years with Henry Speight (2014) and Sefa Naivalu (2016) both qualifying under residency to make their Wallabies debuts.

Tongan-born New Zealand schoolboy sensation Taniela Tupou is the next would-be country-hopper, becoming eligible for Australian duties by the end of 2017.

Pulver said he supported the change, which wouldn’t come into effect immediately, as one that ‘preserved the integrity of the game’.

“At a World Rugby level, what we're trying to do is to preserve the integrity of national teams and frankly if you're a Fijian who lives in Fiji, you should play for Fiji, you shouldn't play for any other country,” he said.

“Same in Tonga, same in Samoa, same right around the world and it's very important we preserve that.

“Now, the shift from three years to five years is trying to reinforce that, specifically in relation to Australia, because we support that change, it is a very healthy international change.”

Pulver also flagged imminent changes to the global rugby calendar, a setup that has created consternation between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, with June Series matches lucrative for the south but disruptive of Super Rugby.

Test match mentality is needed from the Wallabies to square the the series in Melbourne, says John Connolly. Photo: Stu WalmsleyThere is the possibility that annual June Tests would be pushed back to July, with the Northern Hemisphere able to waive the obligation to play the matches in the year after a World Cup, which would be a financial blow to the SANZAAR countries.

“The International match calendar for world rugby is unquestionably the most difficult issue to resolve,” he said.

“When you shift the calendar for a national team, it reverberates through their local competition, through the club competition all the way through to their schools.”

Pulver said he hoped proposed changes to the calendar would be public after World Rugby Council meetings in May.