Changes to the law regarding the number of foreign players in Premiership teams in a post-referendum world could mean a number of players would be ineligible to play for England’s top clubs.
Under current rules a Premiership team can field no more than two ‘foreign’ players in each match 23. However, the ‘Kolpak ruling’ means that any player from the EU, South Africa, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga cannot be counted as a ‘foreign player’ in agreements between Premiership Rugby and the RFU.
As Lia Hervey explained for Sky Sports:
“If Kolpak and EU players are treated as any other foreign players, they would need to be an elite rugby player who has started once at international 15-a-side level during the last 15 months for a tier one or two nation, or capped 10 times and started once in the last 15 months from other nations.”
Indeed, such has been the impact of the Kolpak ruling that the likes of Andrew Mehrtens and Matt Burke have used the decision to assist their clubs in working around foreign player quotas. When former New Zealand fly-half Merhtens signed for Harlequins back in the 2005-2006 season, he took on a South African passport as he was born in Durban. This meant he would not be counted as a foreign player under the Kolpak ruling.
Like Mehrtens, Burke took on a new passport to help his club get past the rules regarding foreign players. His mother is British-born, which meant that Burke could apply for a British passport and thus no longer count as a foreign player. This enabled Newcastle Falcons to then keep on New Zealand prop Joe McDonnell as well.
The Premiership ‘Brexit’ XV
We look at some of the players who are plying their trade in the Premiership thanks to the Kolpak ruling and the EU’s freedom of movement agreement.
1) Riccardo Brugnara
Leicester’s Italian prop would fall foul of any changes to the rules regarding foreign-born players in a post-Brexit world. He has not played for Italy and so potentially would not be eligible to play in the Premiership if the Kolpak ruling were no longer to apply. ‘Brexit’ would have a huge impact on young players yet to play for their country but plying their trade in Britain.
2) Michael Van Vuuren
Van Vuuren has played for South African U20s, but has yet to play for the country’s senior side. Without Kolpak being in place, Van Vuuren would end up no longer being able to play in the Premiership.
3) Derrick Appiah
The Italian Worcester prop – like fellow countryman Riccardo Brugnara – would potentially no longer be able to play in the Premiership if the Kolpak ruling no longer applied.
4) Sebastian de Chaves
De Chaves is an uncapped South African-born player, meaning he would become ineligible based on the rules affecting foreign-born players. The former Leicester lock has signed for now-relegated London Irish.
5) Donncha O’Callaghan
If immigration controls are brought in between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, which is a possibility in a post-European Union world for Britain and Northern Ireland, uncapped Irish players or those out fo the international game for longer than 15 months would become ineligible. Players like former Ireland legend Donncha O’Callaghan would then become affected.
6) Michael Rhodes
Saracens lock Rhodes has been played for the invitational side the Barbarians, but never for South Africa. In a post-Brexit world he would no longer be eligible to play in the Premiership.
7) Dewald Potgieter
Former Springbok Potgieter has not played for South Africa since 2010 and would therefore fall foul of the rules.
8) Nathan Hughes
Although the Fijian-born Wasps number eight is now qualified for England on residency, because he hasn’t played for an international team within the last fifteen months he too would not be eligible to play in England. Brexit may cause England, Wales and Scotland all sorts of problems when it comes to the residency rule.
9) Francois Hougaard
Now based at Worcester, the former South African scrum-half hasn’t played for his country since November 2014, meaning he would now no longer qualify for the Premiership.
10) JJ Hanrahan
Northampton’s Hanrahan, who can cover fullback as well as centre and fly-half, has yet to represent the Ireland team. Like Macken, he could become ineligible to play in the Premiership in a non-EU-driven world.
11) Winston Stanley
Harlequins’ Stanley is Australian-born but was capped for Samoa back in 2014. Since it has been over 14 months since he last played for his international team, he would no longer be eligible.
12) Wynand Olivier
Thirty eight-times capped Olivier has not played for South Africa since 2013, thus making him ineligible. Worcester would certainly be hit hardest in a Brexit environment.
13) Brendan Macken
Although having represented Ireland U21s and Emerging Ireland, Macken has not played for Ireland’s senior team and so could end up being ineligible for the Premiership.
14) Pat Howard
Northampton’s Pat Howard has not played for South Africa and like a lot of young uncapped foreigners would not be able to work towards claiming residency in England and play for the national side. He may have been somewhat prescient and has left the club.
15) Ahsee Tuala
Northampton’s Samoan-born fullback would potentially be a victim of any Brexit rule changes as he has not played for his country since 2014.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena