Players who are willing to leave their countries of original will have their earning potential restricted by rugby’s revised residency rule.
The updated rule will see players have to live in a country for five years before becoming eligible to play for the national team.
This could spell the end of the concept of “project players”, meaning unions will no longer sanction the recruitment of promising talent that is not qualified to play for their national side, diminishing their earning potential.
Alternatively, unions will start the process of recruiting oversea players earlier, looking to recruit school-aged players and bringing them over on scholarships, as New Zealand has in the past.
Within hours of the rule change being confirmed the Irish Rugby Football Union announced the recruitment of talent scouts for its IQ (Irish Qualified) programme, alongside its Exiles Branch which recruits players with Irish heritage in Britain.
The rule change is likely to have the biggest impact on players from the Pacific Islands, for whom professional rugby is an opportunity to earn an income to support their extended family, and getting onto a “tier one” test team would have a massive impact on their ability to secure their families’ futures.
However, as long as the French and English clubs are privately owned, Pacific Islanders will be prized assets, and they will continue to move overseas as the benefits of playing in England, France or one of the SANZAAR countries far outweighs the prestige of being capped for Samoa, Fiji or Tonga. The potential of eventually gaining a cap for a European side, or one of the Southern Hemisphere super powers, might be seen as a bonus.
You would suspect that Henry Speight, for example, would not have backed out of playing for the ACT Brumbies, had the prospect of playing for the Wallabies been put on hold for another two years.
For players from rugby strongholds who do not make the national side, or believe they are unlike to be capped for the nation of their birth will continue to ply their trade overseas to maximise their earnings. And should an international call-up come from their adopted country, the financial boost will be welcomed.
The new rule may also have a negative impact on the quality of players available to weaker nations, depending on how strictly it is implemented.Players from top tier nations who would never have been considered by professional teams at home, have gone on to represent a diverse range of countries, including Irishmen playing for Austria and Burundi.