Australian rugby changes overseas player selection policy

Toulon duo Drew Mitchell and Matt Giteau are back from international wilderness ahead of Rugby World Cup

The Sport Review staff
By The Sport Review staff

Overseas-based Australian players have been handed an international lifeline as the Australian Rugby Union implements a change in its player selection policy.

Effective immediately, those who have played in more than 60 Test matches for the Wallabies and held an ARU contract for at least seven years will be eligible for selection.

We feel this decision allows the ARU to assert more influence over player movement and contracting in Australia and abroad.

Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver on policy change

The change sees Australian rugby move to an overseas selection policy similar to that of South Africa or Argentina, although neither place restrictions on number of caps or contracts.

Of rugby’s major nations, only New Zealand and England enforce a strict policy on selecting home-based players.

Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver described the policy change as an important strategic decision.

“This is a pivotal moment for Rugby in Australia, where for the first time in its professional history, the ARU will allow overseas-based players who have made a significant contribution to Australian rugby to become eligible for the Qantas Wallabies,” Pulver said.

“It’s a decision that recognises the changing dynamics of a global rugby market for professional players.

“Combined with our other recruitment and retention strategies, we feel this decision allows the ARU to assert more influence over player movement and contracting in Australia and abroad.”

The change of heart, endorsed by the Super Rugby CEOs on Monday, will mean experienced Wallabies, such as centurion Adam Ashley-Cooper will remain eligible for international selection when he heads to France this summer.

It could also open the door for players like Matt Giteau, who has 92 caps to his name, but has not played for the Wallabies since 2011 when he left the Brumbies to join French and European champions Toulon.

Giteau was controversially left out of the 2011 Rugby World Cup squad and, after helping Toulon reach a third successive European Champions Cup final on Sunday, admitted he would love to represent his country again if the rules were changed.

The 32-year-old and Toulon team-mate Drew Mitchell, who has 63 caps to his name, are both now eligible to be selected by Australia head coach Michael Cheika for the Rugby World Cup in September.

However, the likes of James Horwill and Will Genia, who have 58 caps to their name, and Sekope Kepu, who has 52, will need to cross the threshold in the Rugby Championship and Rugby World Cup to remain eligible when they move to their northern hemisphere clubs later this year.

Pulver believes that the change will also bring short- and long-term benefits to Australian rugby and its players.

“Those players who satisfy the 60-game and seven-year threshold have already invested heavily and contributed considerably to Australian Rugby over a long period of time,” he added.

“The policy also encourages those players who have not yet reached that point to commit exclusively to Australian Rugby in the prime of their career.

“In this way, we believe the policy supports Super Rugby by encouraging our top players to remain in Australia for longer.

“It also means we can invest more money into our younger players in the long-term, while ensuring our most experienced players leaving for overseas can still contribute to the overall success of the code in Australia – on and off the field.”

The change will also allow players returning to Australia from overseas-based clubs to be immediately eligible for selection if they make a two-year commitment to an Australian Super Rugby franchise.

We want the best players being rewarded for playing the majority of their career in Australia, and this is an important step to the future growth and success of the Wallabies.

Australia head coach Michael Cheika on policy change

Current Exeter Chiefs captain Dean Mumm, who has 33 Wallabies caps to his name, is returning to the New South Wales Waratahs this summer after two years in the Aviva Premiership.

Cheika adds that many overseas-based players he speaks to have a huge desire to still represent their country and he believes that the greater competition for places will lead to a stronger Wallabies team.

“It’s important to, first and foremost, recognise those players who are currently making a daily contribution to Rugby in Australia, but at the same time not discount those elite-level and experienced Test players who have already invested so much into the code over a long period,” Cheika said.

“From speaking with many of them, I know they still have a huge desire to represent Australia, and would do so to the very best of their abilities if ever called upon once again.

“In the end, we want the best players being rewarded for playing the majority of their career in Australia, and this is an important step to the future growth and success of the Wallabies.”

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