Who is benefiting from Rugby’s eligibility laws?

After news came out that New Zealand had representation in 15 of the 20 teams in this year’s Rugby World Cup, people started questioning the World Rugby eligibility laws. Add this to the fact that 25% of the players in this year’s World Cup were born in New Zealand, South Africa or Australia.

Previously, the law stated that a player must be born in, have a parent or grandparent born in, or play in a country for 3 years before being able to represent that country at international level. After 2020, the rule will change and players will have to play in a country for 5 years before being eligible for that international team.

A report from Betway Sports came out stating that 138 players at this year’s world cup will represent countries they weren’t born in. Countries like Tonga, Samoa and Japan lead the way with numbers as each of these teams have over 15 foreign-born players. Most of these players are eligible due to residency or having a parent or grandparent born in the country. Once the new 5 year rule comes out, this will decrease the number of players who qualify for new countries on residency.

So the question is, who will benefit the most from the new eligibility rule? The most obvious winners from this would be the countries at this year’s world cup who currently have 0 players in their squad who qualified on residency, these countries include Uruguay, Argentina, Namibia, Georgia, Samoa, Tonga, Russia and Fiji. The next few countries in the list for residency players are South Africa with 1, Canada with 2, Scotland with 2, New Zealand with 3, Wales with 3, Italy with 3, Ireland with 3, England with 4, France with 4, USA with 6, Australia with 12 and Japan with 15. The obvious countries that could suffer from this new rule are Japan, Australia and the USA.

Many ex-players and pundits have come out in protest of the World Rugby eligibility laws as some have said it will “ruin the 2019 Rugby World Cup.” Former Welsh fullback Paul Thorburn said: “How can World Rugby allow the eligibility criteria to make a total mockery of something that has been the very embodiment of pride and honour in sport? Those responsible ought to look at themselves. What are World Rugby trying to achieve by allowing such a thing to happen? It makes the sport look ridiculous.”

Although World Rugby is changing the rules to 5 years rather than 3, many fear that this won’t stop what countries like New Zealand and France do. Many top tier international countries send scouts to the Pacific Islands and other smaller rugby playing countries in the hope of finding talented young players aged 15-17 years old. By the time these players are 20-22, they’re ready to play for their new country after having played for 5 years. The worry is, more tier 1 nations will try to do this and stop the smaller playing countries improve.

Other pundits have called for world rugby to increase the residency rule to 10 years even before the 5 year comes into place in 2020. This would help the smaller nations improve as they manage to blood young talent. Some pundits and ex-players have questioned what young players think when they see a foreign player in front of them lining up for their country.

The Grandparent rule has also come under scrutiny with many saying a player shouldn’t be able to play for a nation their grandparent was born in if they or their parents were not. They believe this isn’t enough of a tie to a country for a player to feel patriotic towards that country.

Although the rule has come under scrutiny, the rule offers a chance for players to play for smaller teams who wouldn’t be able to play for a bigger nation under normal circumstances. It also allows players to play for a country who have relocated to the new country and feel patriotic about the country, but some think the amount of time is still too short.

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