Loose Pass: Frustration over residency rule and New Zealand’s uncertain times

Lawrence Nolan
Could Tyrone Green pull on an England jersey in the near future?

Could Tyrone Green pull on an England jersey in the near future?

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with international shopping, diving and New Zealand’s rough patch…

So is the system working?

“International sport should not have a transfer market” was one Irish journalist’s reaction to the selection of five foreign-born players in Ireland’s squad back in November 2020.

The residency rule whereby players could live somewhere for three years and then become an international was changed effective from the end of 2020, extended from three years to five years. This has meant fewer players heading to foreign shores a la Aki and Lowe and others, but upon reading yesterday’s article by James While about the South Africans on English radar, it does seem pertinent to ask: how much is really changing?

Should Tyrone Green – who has spoken openly about his preference to play for South Africa – Hanro Liebenberg, Jacques Vermeulen and Benhard Janse van Rensburg end up in white, it will be a bit of a slap to the chops for four blue-blooded Englishmen who doubtless dreamed of playing for their country since watching their first Six Nations agog on Daddy’s knee – by coincidence aged probably about the number of years the aforementioned quartet need to live in England to be eligible.

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“National team representation is the reward for devoting your career, your rugby life, to your nation and these amendments will ensure that the international arena is full of players devoted to their nation, who got there on merit,” said Gus Pichot at the time the rule change was announced, but while those above have undoubtedly been devoted to their career and rugby life, isn’t it potentially stretching credibility to assert that they’ve been devoting career and life to their nation? Liebenberg is a former South Africa U20 captain, leading a team in 2015 which also featured Vermeulen. Van Rensburg was in the U20 team the year after. All are in their late 20s; hardly an age which presents oodles of future in the same way Maro Itoje’s accession to England did at the time.

Meanwhile, this was Green’s take on it all not seven weeks ago: “I think I do qualify in about a year and a bit for England. Growing up the goal was the Springboks, and I’ll still push with everything I have to get there. But then in a year and a bit, that might be a decision I’ll have to make.”

None of this is any kind of slur against these players, all of whom are excellent rugby players, good servants to their clubs and good professionals.

But – and maybe we’re reading the room wrong here – shouldn’t a national team be made up of people who grew up wanting to play for it, rather than those who end up playing for it as a second-choice alternative? Is that what the fans really want?

There’s a lesser-known clause regarding residency in which someone who has had ten years of accumulated residence in a country becomes eligible internationally. Extending the continuous period from three to five years was a positive move, but given the resources teams can use to bring players across earlier in their career, it seems like it might not be positive enough.

Ten years across a lifetime would create its own loopholes, but it does at least seem fairer and certainly would prohibit players making a ‘career move’ to a national team, which is a development that really undermines the fundamental concepts of national belonging that a national team should both represent and foster.

New Zealand’s uncertain times

It seems it is not just the Crusaders’ horrid form signifying a storm of change washing across New Zealand.

A story broke on Monday telling of the New Zealand Rugby Players Association (NZRPA) threatening to walk away from NZ Rugby if reforms are not voted on in a few days’ time.

The problem is not reforms per se, more a case of which reforms. The NZRPA commissioned a report last year which concluded that New Zealand Rugby was not fit for governance, recommending a set of reforms to bring it up to speed. This was hotly contested by some provincial unions, who have put forward an alternative proposal. This, in turn, was largely rejected both an independent review and NZ Rugby Chair Dame Patsy Reddy, who also threatened to walk away from NZ Rugby if the provincial proposal came to fruition.

Mostly, the proposals centre around both the process of accession to the NZ Rugby board and the personnel make-up thereof, with the provinces looking to maintain both numerical and term presence.

The NZRPA has thus threatened to set up a new body to govern the professional game and leave the NZRU to the amateur and community game, doubtless creating a situation such as in England where Premier Rugby and the Rugby Football Union lock horns once every cycle. On the face of things, it seems a similar sort of situation too, with a newer and more agile body banging up against a blazer brigade seeking to enshrine power.

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But were this split to happen, the shockwaves around New Zealand Rugby’s professional game would be significant, not least in terms of ownership of media rights, sponsor contracting, high-performance pathways and competitions, player contracting and so on, which would likely become subject of an ugly tug-of-war between the two factions.

Watch this one carefully.

Get up and get rid

Luke Pearce’s put-down of Bevan Rodd’s theatrics was suitable, but we’d advocate for far more than just shaming. It took soccer yonks to get over itself and the doubts about whether players were taking a dive or not before yellow cards were introduced, but at least there occasionally it was difficult to tell; certainly before the introduction of VAR.

Rugby does not have that problem. It is extremely obvious when players take a dive or milk a situation, and in case it is not, it will be even more obvious to a TMO. Penalise it now, for the good of the game.

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