The Scottish Rugby Union is the latest to play the system

When the rules change, countries just roll with it and adapt.

World Rugby is trying its hardest to make a set of eligibility rules that countries cannot flaunt. Unfortunately for the sport’s governing body, every time it tries, the various unions quickly adapt to find a way around the new set of rules and regulations.

The most recent attempt by World Rugby to get players playing only for the nation they really should represent was a bold one. Seeing how easy it was for Southern Hemisphere players to move to a Northern hemisphere country and become eligible to play for their “new” nation, the residency requirement was increased from three years to five. 

The theory behind this was that making the length of time before gaining eligibility more than a full World Cup cycle, it would make it less likely that Pacific Island players and fringe national team candidates from the likes of South Africa and New Zealand would be tapped up by coaches in the north.

It is a good policy in theory, but in practice unions just move on and work on new solutions for player recruitment. Also, they don’t even hide that they are doing so.

The Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) took no time at all to alter their plans. Instead of – or more likely in addition to – continuing to lure players for the five-year period, they also quickly hired a team of talent scouts to scour the globe and sell any potential player that is foreign-born, but immediately Scottish-qualified due to their heritage, on the merits of playing at Murrayfield.

Switching strategies

Ironically, this very much changes the area where any potential talent drain would come from. While there are likely players that are Scotland-qualified playing in Australia and New Zealand, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the majority of such players will be English born. Thus the battleground has suddenly shifted from a Southern Hemisphere vs. Northern hemisphere situation, to one that will be played out between these two countries who have been fighting over players for over a century.

The Scottish plan involves three ex-players and an ex-coach who have the sole job of scouting the world to unearth these potential future superstars. To help with this goal, the SRU has also formed ties with coaches at every level of the game in all the major rugby playing nations. 

It is an elaborate plan for sure, but if it unearths one gem that the SRU can convince to play for Scotland and who makes a major impact, it will be hard to argue that it was a bad use of resources.

At least this new idea focuses on players eligible through heritage. This is something that few would argue is a fine reason to represent a nation, far more so than the arbitrary five-year residency period we have for players pursuing the other route. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of this and also what changes come next with this rule that – for whatever reason – rugby union just cannot seem to get right.

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