All Blacks loose forward Ardie Savea has brought into question whether international eligibility laws should be applicable to coaches in the same way that they are enforced for players.
Test eligibility has been a contentious issue in rugby for some time, with the ever-lasting debate flaring up again recently after the announcement of Kiwi duo Johnny McNicholl and Willis Halaholo in Wales’ squad for this weekend’s clash against the Barbarians in Cardiff.
They are two of many players who have qualified for adopted nations on World Rugby’s controversial residency grounds, which states a player can play for a country outside of their’s, their parent’s or grandparent’s nation of birth provided that they live in their new homeland for three years consecutively.
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As of next year, the period of residency will be increased to a five-year period, but once a player has committed themselves to one nation, they become ineligible to represent any other international side, regardless of how many countries they were eligible for prior to their test debut.
A loophole through rugby seven’s involvement in the Olympics means that players can switch allegiance if they stand down from international rugby for three years and partake in either four World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments or an Olympic qualifying event for their second nation.
However, many professional players willing to switch international allegiances struggle to find the time to commit themselves to the Olympic loophole given their nearly year-long commitments to their clubs on an annual basis.
The format of sevens also makes it difficult for those who play in the tight five positions to commit to the abbreviated format of the game due to its fast-paced, high-intensity nature.
Consequently, plenty of minnow nations – particularly the Pacific Island countries, who provide a plethora of professional rugby players to teams around the globe – suffer from a severe loss of talent to wealthier, better-resourced unions and clubs.
Coaches, on the other hand, are able to move between international teams freely without any repercussions.
Tasmanian-born England head coach Eddie Jones, for example, has acted as head coach for the Wallabies and Japan, and was an assistant for the Springboks during their successful World Cup campaign in 2007.
Elsewhere, former All Blacks hooker Warren Gatland has coached Ireland, Wales and the British and Irish Lions, and has spoken of his desire to coach New Zealand in the future.
Savea, who was a nominee for World Rugby Player of the Year this year, suggested the idea of introducing coaching eligibility laws on social media on Friday.
“Random thought – rugby union players aren’t allowed to switch allegiance once playing for their country,” he said. “Should the same rule apply to coaches?,” he wrote to his 37,500 followers on Twitter.
Random thought – rugby union players aren't allowed to switch allegiance once playing for their country.
Should the same rule apply to coaches?
— ardie savea (@ardiesavea) November 28, 2019
Such a move would make the likes of Gatland, outgoing Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, Japan boss Jamie Joseph and incoming Wallabies mentor Dave Rennie – all of whom were considered frontrunners for the vacant All Blacks job before ruling themselves out of contention for various reasons – ineligible to take charge of New Zealand.
The main argument against such a rule is that it restricts the flow of idea, which allows for a better product worldwide.
Conversely, though, the current eligibility laws for players restricts growth for tier two nations such as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.
The lure of financial incentive from offshore clubs has seen many players from these Pacific nations lost to overseas unions through residency grounds, with plenty of these players only earning a handful of test caps for their adopted country.
Pacific Rugby Players Welfare boss Dan Leo has long been campaigning for a change to the laws, which he believes to be unfair on developing nations.
“The systems in place are actually conducive to keeping teams like the Pacific Islands poor,” Leo told TVNZ in August.
“But if you go to a country like France, where I do a lot of work, we’re just propping up French professional rugby, especially when you go down to the second and third divisions, it’s Pacific Island sourced.
“At the moment, if you want to be a professional player, you’ve got to leave. That’s the reality of the situation.”
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