Section 3.7 of the rules and regulations of the European Champions Cup states “each club is permitted to a maximum of two non-European players”. The term “Non-European” does not refer simply to the geographical region.
The status of a “Non-European player” was established in the 2003 landmark case known as the “Kolpak Case”. The decision laid down clarified the specifics of what constitutes a “non-European player” in relation to the European Champions Cup.
This decision entitles South African, Fijian, Tongan, Samoan and Georgian players to be considered as European Players due to their political relationships with Europe.
Therefore, any players of these nationalities are ultimately not included in their club’s quota.
This restricts European clubs from having a combination two or more Australians, New Zealanders and Argentinians in their match-day squad.
In recent years, Southern Hemisphere stars have been attracted to Europe by lucrative contracts and the experience of a different lifestyle and brand of rugby.
In the wake of mass migration of quality internationals from Super Rugby to European clubs, the Australian Rugby Union announced a deregulation which allowed the representation of overseas players for the Wallabies.
Attention naturally veered towards New Zealand who along with Australia held a strict domestic rugby requirement to represent the All Blacks.
Despite much speculation, New Zealand Rugby confirmed that they will not be following in the footsteps of Australia and chose to uphold the provision despite stating they’re open to change in the future.
Therefore, if you are a New Zealander wishing to sign for a European club you must accept that your aspirations to be an All Black are at least temporarily dashed, accompanied with the fact that the often significant number of non-Europeans within a single squad could jeopardise consistent game time.
Take James Lowe for example, recently signed by Leinster from the Waikato Chiefs at the start of the 2017/2018 season. Up to now, Lowe has represented the province once since his arrival and it was an away game against Benetton Treviso in the Guinness PRO14.
Lowe isn’t even in the province’s squad for the Champions Cup. This is due to Leinster’s current squad already having non-European representatives in Wallaby Scott Fardy and current sub scrum-half and New Zealand Maori, Jamison Gibson-Park.
Last season James Lowe scored eleven tries in 15 games for the Chiefs and has proved himself as a world class finisher. Leo Cullen is then stuck with the conundrum of either dropping Jamison Gibson-Park who continues to provide an important impact of the bench for the province or continue to leave a fully fit Lowe sidelined.
It is without a doubt that if this rule was not in place James Lowe would be a starter for Leinster particularly in European clashes, let alone PRO14 fixtures against Treviso.
I view it as harsh that Lowe remains sidelined due to Fardy and Gibson-Park’s presence simply because of this quota, considering he has relinquished a genuine aspiration of being an All Black.
It is not only as a nightmare for both player and coaching staff but perhaps damaging to the diversity and quality of European Rugby.
Australians, Argentinians and New Zealanders, in particular, may be hesitant to sign for European teams that already has quality non-European players in the squad.
Perhaps specific conditions could be introduced to allow certain exceptions to the quota or better still, should the rule just be abolished completely?
Colm Carter, Pundit Arena