The decision by World Rugby to extend the date of the ending of their three-year eligibility rule could open the door to the home nations attempting to ‘cap and capture’ a number of players over the course of the next 15 months.

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World Rugby is currently transitioning from a three year to a five-year residency for project players to be eligible to represent countries other than the ones they are born in or have familial links to.

The original cut off of the three year residency period – the date a player had to have been in residence in the said country from – was effectively May 2017, meaning players would have need to be capped by that date in May 2020.

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However, World Rugby have been forced to delay the cut off as the coronavirus pandemic, and resulting disruption to rugby seasons, has meant many players will not have had opportunities to be capped. The governing body have now decided to extend that cut-off until the end of 2021, which means players who signed in 2018 can now qualify in 2021 rather than two years later 2023.

It means players signed after May 2017 but prior to December 31st, 2018 to clubs in their respective territories could be captured if they get capped prior to the new cut off date at the end of 2021. That has defacto opened the door to the unions looking at uncapped foreign players heretofore not considered to be project players, who have been plying their trade in their territories, to be capped.

Edinburgh prop Pierre Schoeman might be the most notable beneficiary, as he becomes eligible this autumn. In Ireland, Leinster’s James Lowe, who signed in 2017, is expected to be called up later this year, while Connacht’s Jarrad Butler and Munster’s Chris Cloete, Roman Salanoa and Keynan Knox will all be selectable according to the Irish Indepedent. 

However, it is in England and France where as yet uncapped South Africans, Antipodean and Pacific Island players plying their trade in the Premiership and Top 14 could potentially come into selection reckoning.

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An official statement from World Rugby this afternoon reads: “The World Rugby Executive Committee approved an adjustment to Regulation 8 (eligibility) in July to combat the exceptional disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic on the necessary residency criteria for players wishing to qualify for a national union.

“The residency criteria outlined in the regulation is due to increase from 36 consecutive months to 60 consecutive months on 31 December, 2020. In order to be eligible on that basis, players must meet the residency requirement and have represented their union before the cut-off date.

“Due to the disruption to the international calendar caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, playing opportunities have been significantly affected across the sport’s 127 member unions and eligible players may have been prevented from representing a union on the basis of 36 months residency by the scheduled cut-off date and would therefore automatically move into the 60-month requirement.

“In light of these exceptional circumstances, the Executive Committee, having consulted with unions and International Rugby Players, determined it was appropriate to extend the extend the 36 month residency requirement set out in Regulation 8 to 31 December, 2021.

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“The Executive Committee also confirmed that a player must meet both the 36 months residency requirement and have represented the union on or before 31 December, 2021, otherwise the player will fall under the 60-month rule.”

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