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'It does piss you off, definitely': Fitzgerald calls for tightening of player residency rules in rugby

“It’s wrong,” says the former Ireland and Leinster back.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Updated at 08.00

FORMER IRELAND AND Leinster star Luke Fitzgerald thinks the current residency rules in rugby are plain ‘wrong’ and would like to see more hurdles before players are able to play internationally for an adopted country.

Under current World Rugby rules, three years of residency is enough to qualify any uncapped player for a nation even if they arrived with no blood ties.

Ireland have not been shy in taking advantage of the rules as they stand with Jared Payne, CJ Stander, Richardt Strauss and Quinn Roux among those to have graduated from ‘project player’ to senior Irish international.

“I think it’s wrong,” Fitzgerald said unequivocally, echoing the sentiment of World Rugby vice-chairman Augustin Pichot.

“I know that’s controversial but… and it’s no reflection on those guys, they’re doing everything within the rules.

I want to see Irish guys in there. Are we not good enough to fill the spots? I don’t know if there’s a big enough gap, to justify it?”

Fitzgerald reels off a list of men who he sees as being key Irish players — from Johnny Sexton to Stu Olding, Sean O’Brien to Robbie Henshaw — to make his point that Ireland are producing talented rugby internationals.

The 2009 Lion brushes off the notion that team morale would be impacted by a player on three-year residency coming to oust a homegrown. However, he does admit he has been annoyed when put in the situation himself.

Robbie Henshaw, Jared Payne, Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney and Jonathon Sexton Fitzgerald in training with Robbie Henshaw, Jared Payne, Rob Kearney and Johnny Sexton last year. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Would it affect me if there was a guy from another place getting picked ahead of me? I’ve been in that spot, and it does piss you off, definitely it does.

“You’ve come all the way up through the internationals, through the system, and then all of a sudden some guy comes in and is perceived to be better because he’s from a different place, and it’s ‘let get this guy in.’ I think it’s really disappointing.

From a team perspective, it won’t affect things at all. They’ll be focused on their own job, on the game that weekend, the guy next to them isn’t really their concern, or shouldn’t be. You have to focus on your own job in international rugby, it’s too fast, with too many good players opposite you.

“I don’t know if being born in a different part of the world makes you a better player. I think they (southern hemisphere international teams) are better than us, but if they (individual players) are not making those international teams, why would we be taking them?”

Every rule needs a loophole, but there is growing concern that three years – although a full quarter of a very good rugby career – is too low of a bar to hit and a five or seven-year residency would be a more accurate reflection of players who genuinely made a home in a country.

“I’m talking about flying in a guy who ‘can look good in another two or three years’, or ‘we’ve got a gap in the academy, so we’re going to try fill that with someone from abroad’, that’s what I’m talking about.”

Luke Fitzgerald and Gordon D'Arcy Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Fitzgerald was speaking to promote Sky Sport’s coverage of the autumn internationals, and Ireland will not be the only host in this series pitting players born and reared in the southern hemisphere against tourists from the same half of the world.

“It really dilutes it for me,” Fitzgerald continues, “I mean what’s the point? It’s like Barbarians v Barbarians, why do that? I don’t understand that.

“It diminishes it for me, now I’m a spectator, I can say that. I’d much rather see the Irish team v the New Zealand team, or whoever it may be.

I’m talking about flying in a guy who ‘can look good in another two or three years’, or ‘we’ve got a gap in the academy, so we’re going to try fill that with someone from abroad’, that’s what I’m talking about.

“It’s no reflection on the guys who are operating within the rules. I’d just much rather see fully Irish guys there.”

Sky Sports pundits Gordon D’Arcy and Luke Fitzgerald were promoting a huge autumn of Irish rugby coverage on Sky Sports, where viewers can watch the ERCC, Guinness Pro12 and Guinness Series all in one place. Customers can upgrade to Sky Sports now for just €25 a month for 6 months by searching ‘Sky Sports Offer.’

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Sean Farrell

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