Planet Rugby

Fiji boss backs new eligibility rule

31st July 2014 08:57

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Fiji Sevens head coach Ben Ryan is firmly behind the new IRB Regulation 8 to allow players a second chance at international rugby.

A number of players capped by New Zealand and Australia but born in the Pacific Islands are hoping to represent the countries of their birth or ancestry at next year's Rugby World Cup under the new rules.

Speaking exclusively to Planet Rugby, Ryan outlined the developments behind the regulation coming into action ahead of the Olympics in 2016.

"It's all come about because IOC (International Olympic Committee) regulations for eligibility are different to the IRB, so the passport has become crucial," said Ryan.

"With this, there had to be a regulation change or players could be marooned in teams they can normally play for after qualifying through residency or through family ties, but would be unable to play for those adopted countries at the Olympics because they don't hold a passport of that country."

As for whether Ryan was happy to allow players into the Fiji setup in order to benefit the full national team, the former England Sevens boss is behind the scheme.

Discussions have already taken place with John McKee, the Fiji XVs head coach, about which players to include.

"It's something I'm happy to do, but for the right reasons and with a joined-up thinking approach to it all," underlined Ryan.

"John McKee and I have a great relationship and we're working together on all of this. Everything is shared.

"It has to always be done with the question 'will it make your programme stronger?' That's what we are concerned with. The coaches' job is to keep the squad and players balanced and on task."

Naturally there are concerns that players will exploit the regulation without properly benefiting the Sevens side, but Ryan clarified that there would not be a set requirement in terms of a number of appearances, with each player's case dealt with individually.

"It's case by case. IRB Regulation 9 is also in place so clubs are duty bound to release the players so the two regulations can be used in tandem," stated Ryan.

"A player might change under Regulation 8 purely for Sevens because they want to fight for a place at the Rio Olympics in 2016, or it might be to do both formats or perhaps to allow them to play 15s for Fiji."

Names such as Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu have consequently been mentioned over possibly switching to Fiji for either the World Cup or Olympics, with Ryan praising both highly and ready to accommodate them should their interest materialise.

"They are both outstanding players in their own right and if they were to be serious in making the swap, then I would also take this seriously and in tandem with McKee and the players, work out a plan of attack."

The romantic aspect of it all, as Ryan says, is that players who thought their international careers were over now get another crack at competing in rugby's two biggest international events coming up in the next two years.

"For some players it has allowed them to once again play international rugby after being capped early on once or twice only, and also for others that feel returning to their country of origin is the right thing to do, " he added.

"In a way it completes their rugby journey back to where it began."

by Ben Coles

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