Push for rugby eligibility law change to aid poorer nations

LONDON, 07 AUGUST 2018 (STUFF NZ) – Former Samoan international Dan Leo is calling for a change to world rugby’s eligibility law that “hinders poorer nations”.

Leo, a member of the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare board, says the the one-nation-for-life rule that World Rugby currently operates by “is behind the times” and a change would “almost certainly have an immediate impact, both on the quality and growth of our sport.”

His plan would allow the likes of former All Black Charles Piutau to play for Tonga. Piutau played for Tonga at under-20 level before playing 14 tests for New Zealand between 2013-2015.

Writing in his column for TheRugbyPaper, Leo argues that developing nations should be given access to resources such as former test players who are now surplus to other nations requirements.

With the mass migration of Pacific Islanders to places like New Zealand, Australia, and now Japan and Europe, the one-nation-for-life rule that World Rugby currently operates by, is behind the times. It hinders poorer nations, prejudices people from lower socio-economic back- grounds and only serves the interests of those rugby nations that are already established,” Leo wrote.

“Surely this directly contrasts with the values of the game that we wave about so proudly?”

Leo said he recently laughed with Manu Tuilagi that Tuilagi earned more in one game for England than Leo did over a 39-match 10-year career with Samoa.

“Whether you are white, black, brown, English, Chinese or Fijian, the colour of the jersey you pull on comes secondary to the needs of your family,” he wrote on TheRugbyPaper.co.uk.

“So we need to work out more ways that enable people to come back, later on in their careers, after the ambition to provide financial security for their families has been realised. We need to work out ways that ensure that inclusivity, teamwork, respect and all of the values we hold dear as a sport are being lived out.

“If Bundee Aki can qualify through residency for Ireland in three years, then surely the same should exist the other way around? His last cap coming for New Zealand in 2015, shouldn’t [Charles] Piutau now be be able to play for Tonga after a three-year stand down?”

Leo acknowledged his idea needed more discussion, with options of a shorter or longer “cooling off” period, a limit on the amount of caps a player has to qualify and that movement should only happen from a Tier 1 nation down to a Tier 2/3 nation “ensuring that such a law wouldn’t be abused by bigger nations.”

Leo said fellow PRPW board member Piutau has expressed a desire to represent Tonga at the next World Cup in 2019.

“It pains me to think how many quality Pacific Island players have been lost chasing an All Black or Wallaby dream,” Leo wrote.

“Players captured through a couple of appearances for an U20s side, 7s team or “A” selection, never to be seen again. Proud Samoan and Cardiff Blues forward Nick Williams comes to mind,” he wrote on TheRugbyPaper.co.uk.

“A standout player for Ulster and Cardiff over the past seven years, Williams’ four appointments for the Junior All Blacks between 2005-06 have stopped him from ever joining his brother Tim Nanai-Williams and cousin Sonny-Bill on the world stage.”

Leo said players of Pacific heritage were often unaware of the long term ramifications of them playing for these “capture” teams, both on their careers and their countries.

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