World Rugby has announced players across the globe will now have to serve a five-year eligibility period before they can represent a national side. But a delay in its implementation until 2020 will allow Queensland Reds prop Taniela Tupou – known as the “Tongan Thor” – to be eligible for Wallabies selection this year.
World Rugby executives met in Tokyo to discuss the Regulation 8 guidelines that relate to player eligibility.
A decision to extend the residency requirement from 36 months to 60 months was made with the intention of “protecting the integrity and sanctity of international rugby in the modern elite environment”.
It means players will find it significantly tougher to switch allegiances, however the increase to five years will not come into effect until December 31, 2020.
“This extension to the residency period within a forward-thinking reform package will ensure a close, credible and established link between a union and players, which is good for rugby and good for fans,” said World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont.
Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver was opposed to the change as recently as last year, saying he felt the tweak would leave rugby vulnerable to having players poached by a code such as rugby league that did not have complicated international eligibility rules.
But Pulver changed his tune this year, stressing the move from three years to five would have little impact on the Wallabies.
“At a World Rugby level, what we’re trying to do is to preserve the integrity of national teams,” Pulver said in February. “Frankly, if you are a Fijian that lives in Fiji, you should play for Fiji … you shouldn’t play for any other country. Same in Tonga, same in Samoa, same right around the world. It’s very important we preserve that.
“We support this change. It is a very healthy international change. Of the last 90 players that have used the residency rule to play for Australia, only two have used the 36-month residency rule.”
The two players are Fijian born Sefa Naivalu, who made his debut off the bench last year in Pretoria against South Africa, and 11-Test winger Henry Speight from the Brumbies.
As for 20-year-old rising star Tupou, he will not be affected by the changes but will still have to serve the mandatory three-year requirement.
Tupou is eligible for Wallabies selection later this year after being picked on the spring tour at the end of 2016 as a development player.
For some time, France and Argentina have pushed for five-year eligibility requirements in the hope of preventing national sides from plucking players from other nations and getting them into their systems quickly.
Argentina were the only side at the 2015 World Cup with an entire squad of locally-born players.
World Rugby vice-chairman Agustin Pichot, who hails from Argentina, lauded the decision on Wednesday.
“This is an historic moment for the sport and a great step towards protecting the integrity, ethos and stature of international rugby,” Pichot said. “National team representation is the reward for devoting your career, your rugby life, to your nation and these amendments will ensure that the international arena is full of players devoted to their nation, who got there on merit.”