World Rugby approves groundbreaking new player eligibility law

The World Rugby Council has approved an amendment to the sport’s national team representation laws that will now permit an international player to transfer from one country to another.

This decision comes after a meeting of the World Rugby Council on Tuesday, when a vote was held on a proposal that would allow players to switch nations after a three-year stand-down period, provided that their parents or grandparents were born in the nation to which they’re intending to switch their allegiances.

Under the previous law, once a player has played Test rugby, they’re locked to that country for life – unless they’re able to utilise a loophole in sevens rugby. Both Malakai Fekitoa and Lopeti Timani used sevens to switch from New Zealand and Australia, respectively, to represent Tonga.

However, World Rugby has now approved a new rule that will allow Test-rugby players to switch nations ‘subject to demonstrating a close and credible link to that union via birth right’.

The rule will come into effect from 1 January 2022 and will be subject to the following criteria:

  • The player must stand down from international rugby for 36 months
  • The player must either be born in the country to which they wish to transfer or have a parent or grandparent born in that country
  • Under the revised Regulation 8 criteria, a player may only change union once and each case will be subject to approval by the World Rugby Regulations Committee to preserve integrity.

The law will benefit a significant number of players – primarily from the Pacific Islands – who after playing a handful of Tests for the likes of New Zealand, Australia and England, are unneeded by their chosen nation and could represent a tier-two nation by the 2023 World Cup.

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The likes of Charles Piutau, Steven Luatua and Nathan Hughes have all found themselves frozen out of Test rugby at a young age and could use the law to represent a Pacific Island nation.

Equally, former Wallabies fullback Israel Folau, who had his contract with Rugby Australia terminated after sharing his views on same-sex marriage, could play for Tonga at the 2023 World Cup.

“The proposal to change the rules around player eligibility is something that we have worked on over many years with our member associations,” International Rugby Players CEO Omar Hassanein said.

“Many players across the world will now benefit from the chance to represent the country of their or their ancestors’ birth, serving as a real boost to the competitiveness of emerging nations, which in turn, will benefit the game as a whole.”

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