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Dublin: 3°C Wednesday 14 April 2021

Rule change makes it 'trickier' for provinces to sign NIQ players

The new five-year qualification period narrows the market for the provinces.

LEO CULLEN ADMITS it has become ‘trickier’ for the provinces to sign non-Irish qualified [NIQ] players in the future following World Rugby’s move to change the qualification period from three years of residency to five.

Leinster have successfully recruited a number of NIQ players in recent seasons — notably Jamison Gibson-Park and James Lowe — but the change in rules means it’s unlikely to be an option going forward.

Jamison Gibson-Park Gibson-Park qualifies to represent Ireland this month. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Previously, a province could sign a player on a three-year contract and, through the residency rules, they would qualify to represent Ireland at the end of that time, as was the case with Munster’s Jean Kleyn last weekend, while CJ Stander and Bundee Aki also moved here as project players. 

Kiwi scrum-half Gibson-Park qualifies to play for Ireland this month having joined Leinster from the Hurricanes in 2016, while Lowe was one of the last players to be signed before the change in residency rules. The winger becomes eligible in 2020.

But that market is far less attractive for provinces, and indeed players, now as any NIQ signing would have to spend five years at the club before becoming eligible to represent the national team.

“It’s definitely trickier, five years,” Cullen said. “You could get a guy on a contract for three years and at the end of that contract, he is qualified to play for Ireland. A classic example would be a Jamison. He’s now qualified.

It’s trickier. You can still target that player but they are into the open market and then it is up to them what they want to do. It’s a long time. At what age can you bring someone in. Jamison was 24? And had decent experience. He’s getting towards those prime years now.

“Jean Kleyn came in as a 22-year-old. It is a long time to wait but you are probably looking at someone in that age profile.”

Leinster have lost a huge amount of experience from their squad for this season, with Sean O’Brien, Noel Reid and Jack McGrath all having moved on, while Cian Kelleher — who has returned from Connacht — is the only new addition to Cullen’s squad. 

Ahead of the province’s opening pre-season friendly against Coventry this Saturday, the Leinster head coach was asked if he is looking to bring anyone else in for the 2019/20 campaign.

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“Well, we’re always on the lookout,” Cullen smiled. “We’re always on the lookout for good players. As long as they are good, and they can add, we’re on the lookout.” 

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Ryan Bailey

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