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Change on the way as rugby's residency law gets set to shift to five years

The regulation around qualifying to play international rugby is likely to change soon.

THERE IS CHANGE on the way for rugby as governing body World Rugby gets set to copper-fasten a change to the residency law, bringing the requirement up from three years to five years.

The residency law has been a controversial topic in recent seasons, with the likes of Jared Payne, CJ Stander, Richardt Strauss, Quinn Roux and others qualifying to play for Ireland after living here for three years.

CJ Stander with Scott Williams CJ Stander qualified to play for Ireland after living here for three years. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Most nations in Test rugby have been benefiting from the law, which is detailed in Regulation 8 of the World Rugby Handbook, and there has been much criticism of its perceived exploitation.

The likes of the Scottish Rugby Union and the IRFU have previously expressed a contentment to maintain the status quo, but the last year or so has seen the issue come to a head and a majority of unions across the world have expressed desire for change.

Last year saw World Rugby put in place a working group in order to determine whether the current regulation is fit for purpose, and it’s understood that their recommendation is that Regulation 8 needs to be tweaked.

Tying in with tomorrow’s 2019 World Cup pool draw, the World Rugby Council are meeting in Kyoto, Japan this week to discuss rugby’s eligibility regulation in further detail.

This week we will consider the game’s eligibility framework following a detailed review of the criteria governing international representation,” said World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont on Monday.

“As rugby grows, we need to ensure that it continues to be relevant and inspiring to the next generation of players and fans. Everyone has a say and everyone has a role to play in our future.”

It’s understood that the plans to move the regulation from a three-year residency period to a five-year period will essentially be rubber-stamped at these meetings.

Any confirmation of a shift to five years is likely to be greeted warmly by rugby fans, some of whom have been turned off the international game by the perception that unions are luring players to their nations with the carrot of Test rugby.

Bundee Aki with Ross Byrne and Noel Reid Bundee Aki qualifies for Ireland this year, and won't be affected. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

And yet, there have been many questions marks about players who are nearing the residency requirements under the current regulation, with Connacht man Bundee Aki a fine example.

The New Zealand native will have spent three years living in Ireland in October of this year, therefore qualifying him to play for Joe Schmidt’s national side under the current regulation.

It’s understood that players like Aki who are already in the system will not be affected by the proposed change in regulation, with the new five-year law applying only to players who first move after any change has been officially passed into World Rugby law.

Therefore, the likes of Munster man Tyler Bleyendaal, Ulster’s Wiehahn Herbst, Leinster’s Jamison Gibson-Park and Tom McCartney of Connacht will also qualify for Ireland after living here for three years.

Naturally, any players who have already served three-year periods and been capped for their new nation will not be prevented from continuing to play for that new nation at Test level.

It’s not clear yet exactly when the change in law would be enacted, but the council meetings this week in Kyoto should clarify those details.

The shift to five years would certainly not end players qualifying to play for new nations under the terms of residency, but it will be fascinating to note what effect it would have on the international transfer market.

Jared Payne Jared Payne qualified under Regulation 8 and is now a Lion. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Professional rugby players might be less inclined to move away from their native lands without the lure of possibly playing Test rugby after three years in their new home, though it might simply mean ambitious young players move earlier in their careers.

Either way, any confirmation of a shift to a five-year residency regulation would likely be met happily by the world of rugby, with so many supporters, players and coaches having expressed their unease with the current three-year period.

A change would also put increased onus on unions to produce players who have been brought through their own academy systems or qualify through ancestry.

The likes of Stander and Payne have made big impacts for Ireland after serving their three-year qualifying periods, but we may see fewer examples of this in the future as World Rugby gets set for change.

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Murray Kinsella

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