The recent wrestling with the IRB eligibility criteria is somewhat farcical, to say the least. The current three-year residency regulation is being made a mockery of. This is by no means a new development, but more and more often we see foreigners in the Northern Hemisphere leagues swapping allegiance to new countries and the Steffon Armitage situation really brought this to the top of the agenda.
It frustrates me to see players, often cast onto the reject pile by their country of birth, arriving on these shores for financial gain, subsequently gaining selection for their “new” nation and, worse still going on to represent the British and Irish Lions. Players like Riki Flutey and Matt Stevens have all trodden this well-worn path in recent times and following the current trend will not be the last to do so.
None of the players who arrived in Wales during the “Grannygate” affair ever settled in the country afterwards, and the same was true of the ‘Kilted Kiwis’ in Scotland during the same era. I believe if you play for a country you should live there, and more importantly, want to live there once your rugby career is over and not simply take the money and hot-foot it back to the warmer climes from whence you came. I appreciate how difficult this is to enforce in practice, I just disagree with the spirit of the law and its liberal interpretation. Clearly I understand the need to allow players such as Mako and Billy Vunipola and Taulupe Faletau to represent England and Wales respectively. After all, they are born and bred here and have real history in the UK. And of course, circumstances do change and the door should not be forever closed to those who need to move for valid reasons. I simply worry the system is beginning to be abused.
Where the line should be drawn is a real headache for the administrators, and how the law should be enforced another difficult question. I just hope a workable solution can be found as the status quo is not a viable option in my opinion.