After Jake Heenan declared to play for Ireland, Agustin Pichot spoke out against the current residency rules have to be changed.
But perhaps there is more to say in favour of the current way of doing things rather than changing it.
A lot of top class players get no chance to play proper test rugby with their own country. It is either guys like CJ Stander, who is certainly a class player who has really come into his own playing for Ireland, but would have struggled a lot to make it to the Springboks team, or guys like Tim Visser of Scotland, who could easily have made the Dutch team but would never have played at the same level of the game if he did.
As proven by the issues around David Smith during this year’s Six Nations, once a player has represented a country at senior level, he cannot change his allegiance any more.
There is a downside to the current residency rules too, of course, which is that foreign born players sometimes become more prominent than the local talent in the national teams. This to the detriment of the youth programmes in the country.
That is really the big problem, as foreign players come in to deny chances to young players.
Even if the residency rules are changed, it might not alter it all that much. We would still have players like Dan Parks and Luke McLean, who qualified for Scotland and Italy respectively due to having a grandparent from that country. We would also still have guys like Tommy Allen, who grew up in one country but have a parent from another country and end up playing age level rugby for the first country and opting to play for the other.
And then there is the issue it would raise for smaller countries. Some smaller countries, like Belgium, would have no problem. With the exception of the occasional Dutchman who spends his childhood in Flanders, or Moroccan who grows up in Belgium, they barely include players who qualify for them on residence.
Other countries, like the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Germany would struggle to field a competitive team if they are denied the use of expats.
Norway has had some of the siblings of big names on their team, with Erik Lund, brother of England’s Magnus Lund, and Nathan Cummins, elder brother of Australia’s Nick Cummins. The former is Norwegian born and England raised, the latter qualifying on residence.
In the end, changing the residency rules would probably deny a lot of class players chances to play top flight rugby, and it would make a lot of the smaller nations less competitive.
The only way to solve the issue of residency rules denying local youth their break, without causing these problems, is for the respective nations to put more effort into their own game and their development. If a country like Ireland would spend more time developing talent and bringing it into the top teams of their provinces, the chances of New Zealanders taking over are very much reduced. The money the provinces spend on foreign players would also be reduced, which is funding that can be put into youth again.
In the end, that part of the game’s development never changes, wherever you go in the world. Whether you are a small club in Denmark or the mighty RFU, the truth of rugby remains that the health of your organisation does not lie with expats, it lies with a strong investment in youth.
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