Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle has revealed the national union will conduct a review of the “Giteau Law” that could potentially see more players selected for the Wallabies from overseas.
Currently players must be playing in Australian Super Rugby teams to be eligible for the Wallabies, bar two exemptions that were introduced in 2015.
Any player who has over 60 Tests and served seven years in Australia can be picked from an overseas club, and so too can a player who has signed a two-year contract to return to Australia in the following season.
While stressing there may be no change to a good system, Castle said a review of Australian rugby’s eligibility rules was necessary given the ever-shifting forces of global rugby that may even have New Zealand re-considering their hardline view on not picking from overseas.
"We have a responsibility to do it,” Castle said at the launch of the 2019 NRC season.
"The Giteau rule has worked really well for us and if you you think about the players we couldn’t select for the World Cup, there is probably only three or four and say they would have had a big crack at making the Wallabies for the World Cup.
"That said, with South Africa changing the way they’re looking to treat their players and potentially New Zealand in the process of reviewing their very strong stance on things around players not playing overseas, and the movement of foreign players, it would be irresponsible of us not to review it.”
Castle said she, director of rugby Scott Johnson and high performance boss Ben Whitaker would conduct the review.
The 2015 contracting exemptions were collectively dubbed the “Giteau Law” given the 60-Test threshold was used to pick Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Since then Matt Toomua, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Nic White, Will Genia, Adam Ashley-Cooper and James Horwill have used one of the two clauses to play Test rugby from overseas.
While the number of ineligible Australian players overseas who’d be in the 2019 World Cup mix is currently low - such as Scott Fardy and Sean McMahon - the imminent departures of sub 60-Test players Samu Kerevi (29), Rory Arnold (22) and Adam Coleman (33) has raised debate about whether the Giteau law should be changed or even scrapped.
South Africa this year scrapped their 30-Test cap and intend to pick any player from overseas under regulation 9, which forces clubs to release players for Test duties.
The balance, as Castle also hurriedly added, was the pressing need for the best Australian rugby players to be plying their trade in Super Rugby.
Given the superior money on offer in Europe and France, a free-for-all global eligibility scenario would undoubtedly see the number of stars in Super Rugby diminish. That would see the competition suffer and broadcast contract revenue also fall.
“The fundamental, though, is that we need our good players playing Super Rugby,” Castle said.
"We need to make sure we look at it from that perspective, and don’t give any open doors for opportunities for players to think: ‘well I am going to disappear and not play Super Rugby and then I am dead cert to get selected for the World Cup’. That’s the balance.
"I just know we will have a really hard look at it to make sure we have got the risks to our businesses covered, with that law, and there might end up being no changes at all. But we need to go through that thorough review process.
"In the first instance we will have Scott Johnson and Ben Whitaker and myself sit around and look at it, to start off with, and say from all the different elements, contracting, the Wallabies being competitive, what are the competitors doing, what does regulation 9 mean about bringing players back and forward, does that mean they are less interesting to foreign clubs when you are taking them out all the time under reg 9, which is sort of the South African path.
"All those different elements and then throw all those things together, starting on the basis that the Giteau Law has been working really well."
Castle rejected the idea of Tim Horan to scrap the ban on picking players from overseas in World Cup years only.
"The risk with that ... then those players might just decide playing for the Wallabies for the other three years is not their focal point and I will go off and play in Europe and hope I get selected for the World Cup,” Castle said.
"I am not really a fan of that because what you do is you create that opportunity for a player thinking about I have finished a World Cup and now I can go and sign a three-year contract knowing that I have still a chance too.
"You have to think about all the different combinations and machinations of what people, particularly players managers, will look to drive a big bus through any hole you leave. It is important we get it right.”
Following news Will Skelton had re-signed with Saracens overnight, Castle confirmed the big ex-Waratahs lock had attempted to stretch the boundary of the Giteau Law to be eligible for the World Cup but was denied.
Skelton wanted to sign a contract with an Aussie franchise and return in 2021, not 2020.
"He basically had to give up the last year of his Saracens contract, and sign with Rugby Australia - and we would have had some flexibility like we did with Nic White and Matt Toomua, they could finish their seasons and come back and play the back few games of Super Rugby, that would have been within the bounds of the Giteau law,” Castle said.
"But he was looking to not come back until the following year and that wasn’t acceptable to us.”