A comment by a young rugby writer about Italy and project players got me thinking and on the back of that I wrote an article on Italy and where they are in 2020. https://debsknigsport.com/2020/10/25/the-6-nations-italy-when-is-enough-long-enough/

In their Autumn Nations Cup match against Scotland on the first weekend of the tournament they had just one ‘project player’ in their starting 15, being Braam Steyn. An outstanding back row player of South African birth, he’s 28 and has played his rugby in Italy since 2012 featuring for Mogliano, Calvasino and Zebre before he settled with Benetton who he’s played for 85 times. He’s therefore played most of his senior rugby in the country he represents. Jake Polledri was the only other player in the starting XV who wasn’t born in Italy, he qualifies through his Grandmother.

This article is prompted by the announcement of Irelands’ 23 to play England on the second weekend of the Autumn competition. James Lowe made his debut against Wales and he certainly made his mark. Looking at the starting XV for the game against England a third are qualified by residency. A look at who and the how:-

  • Quinn Roux – Born in South Africa – age 30 – he joined Leinster in 2014 at the age of 24 then at Connacht since 2015
  • CJ Stander – Born in South Africa – age 30 – He played U20’s rugby for South Africa. He joined Munster in 2012 at the age of 22
  • Jamison Gibson-Park – Born in New Zealand – age 28 – He played for the Maori All Blacks 8 times – He joined Leinster in 2016
  • Bundee Aki – Born in New Zealand – age 30 – he joined Connacht in 2014 age 24
  • James Lowe – Born in New Zealand – age 28 – He played for the Maori All Black 4 times – he joined Leinster in 2017 age 25

It’s only fair to look at the other teams in the Northern Hemisphere and where they are in 2020. France didn’t get a run out against Fiji due to Covid issues so I’ll go back to their 6 Nations match against Ireland

  • Bernard Le Roux – Born in South Africa – age 31- He joined Racing 92 in 2009 at the age of 20
  • Paul Willemse – Born in South Africa – age 27 – He played 5 games for South Africa U20’s in 2012 – he joined Grenoble in 2014 at the age of 22 and moved to Montpellier in 2015
  • Virimi Vakatawa – Born in Fiji – age 28 – he joined Racing 92 at the age of 19 – he’s played all of his senior rugby in France.

Italy’s opponents Scotland up next

  • Duhan van der Merwe – Born in South Africa – age 25 – he joined Edinburgh in 2017 at the age of 22
  • Sam Johnson – Born in Australia – age 27 – a dual code rugby player he joined Glasgow Warriors in 2015 at the age of 22

While England currently haven’t included any players who have qualified by residency they have in the past with one being Nathan Hughes who was born in Fiji. And similarly Wales have picked players liek Hadleigh Parkes born in New Zealand.

World Rugby has a residency rule known as Regulation 8 it states that – “A player may represent a country after they have resided there for 36 months” Augustin Pichot has been vocal in his wish to have that regulation changed – interestingly the Irish Times wrote a very interesting article last year https://www.irishtimes.com/sport/rugby/international/matt-williams-residency-rule-endangers-credibility-of-international-game-1.4010053 LINK HERE That regulation was due to change to 5 years but that’s been delayed until December 2021

As the number of overseas players in Premiership Rugby increases, the number of players available to the national team reduces, not necessarily an issue in a country with the number of teams England has, but it must be galling for young hopefuls to see their possible international spot taken by someone who qualifies via residency. Is it time to consider the regulation again with maybe putting an age limit on? A player is currently ‘captured’ when they play for a country’s ‘second’ team , which can no longer include the U20’s set ups.

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