Opinion: Why every international side should drop selection policies and pick players based abroad

Jared Wright
Opinion: Why every international side should drop selection policies and pick players based abroad england wales all blacks

Selecting players based purely from one league is becoming unsustainable for many Test nations, and more teams will join that band after the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

With several players departing their home countries after the 2023 showpiece, Planet Rugby argues that it is time that all selection policies are dropped.


On completion of the Rugby World Cup, the England head coach will not be able to pick Jack Willis, Sam Simmonds, Luke Cowan-Dickie, David Ribbans and Joe Marchant. While all of those players might not crack the nod for the World Cup squad, many will and could play a crucial role after the tournament.

Those are just the confirmed departures from the Premiership, with many set to jet off to France and Japan in an attempt to maximise their earnings.

This is not just an issue for the Premiership, with several players leaving the Welsh regions, and the same applies to Australia and New Zealand.

The All Blacks will be without influential fly-half Richie Mo’unga, who has signed a three-year deal in Japan. He will be joined in the Japanese Rugby League One by fellow Test superstar Ardie Savea, who will skip the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season.

Beauden Barrett could follow the pair in packing his bags for a move abroad while many players come off contract in 2024 and could opt to depart then.

Australia have worked tirelessly to lock down key players ahead of the 2025 British and Irish Lions series, but some have slipped through the cracks, including powerhouse back-rower Pete Samu.

Global game

As rugby continues to grow and become more of a global game, the policies should change with it.

If a player is lucky, they can enjoy an 18-year-long career ala Alun Wyn Jones but for many, 10 years at the highest level and in the most competitive leagues is about as good as it gets.

There are only so many media and coaching gigs going after that, so maximising their income during their heydays is essential.

A player shouldn’t be punished for making the most of their opportunities during their career, and the team picked to represent each country on any given Saturday should be the best one.

Pressure to change and South Africa’s success

We saw just how pivotal the change in South Africa’s selection policies influenced their run to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Faf de Klerk and Cheslin Kolbe were both based abroad when they helped the side lift the William Webb Ellis Cup in Yokohama.

You could even argue that they wouldn’t have reached the showpiece if it weren’t for then Bath-based Francois Louw, whose heroics in the semi-final downed Wales.

The fans and players will drive change to the policies, and we can already see that having an effect in Wales and England.

The Welsh Rugby Union recently slashed the 60 Test cap policy for players based abroad to 25, succumbing to the players’ demands.

In England, the mood is vastly similar, with Maro Itoje and Marcus Smith reportedly threatening their departures with no change in sight.

Steve Borthwick is believed to be pressing, too, with so many of his players heading abroad, and Warren Gatland campaigned for the same during the negotiations between the WRU and players.

Zach Mercer was the best player in the Top 14 last season; surely, he should at least make England’s Six Nations squad.

Why shouldn’t Savea be allowed to have a crack at winning the Top 14 and Champions Cup while continuing his journey to becoming an All Black Test centurion?

Why should Will Skelton’s Wallabies selection be weighted against whether the side has enough depth at fly-half or not?

Not to mention, Charles Piutau who was one of the best full-backs in the world for New Zealand but did not play Test rugby for seven years.

Impact on Test competitions

Test coaches and players want change; now it is time to convince the boards and leagues.

With plans constantly being held to create a global calendar with the Rugby Championship aligning with the Six Nations and all the competitions doing so simultaneously, binning the selection policies makes even more sense.

Players would be available to all the Test teams at the same time, albeit some a day later, depending on travel.

All the Test teams would theoretically be impacted equally, and the choice of how many overseas players are selected would still be in the head coach’s control.

Impact on the clubs

A complete wiping of the selection policies would only be detrimental to the clubs that refuse to change.

Rugby fans hate comparing the sport to football, but if it is to grow continuously, it needs the best players playing international rugby all the time, regardless of where they choose to play their club rugby.

The best players would go to the best leagues that pay them the best salary, and every club would then thrive to be that team in that league.

This would also attract wealthier owners and bigger broadcasting rights.

Creating club rivalries always sells, but modern parallels of Real Madrid’s Galácticos are scarce in rugby. Marvelling over star-studded teams stacked with multiple nationalities has not been prevalent in rugby since Toulon’s golden age.

While some teams will ultimately become development hubs, producing talents only for bigger teams to snap their players, it will still be a step in the right direction for the game overall.

Doing away with the Test selection policies can positively impact international rugby and club rugby; we need to be brave enough to embrace it.

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