Australia right to relax rules as rugby world expands

Martyn Thomas 04:21 23/04/2015
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  • Available: Toulon's Matt Giteau.

    Bill Pulver, Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chief executive, hit the nail on the head when he acknowledged a global player market in the sport.

    Rugby, a game that draws its leading protagonists from opposite sides of the globe has never seemed so parochial. Stars from Australia and New Zealand appear to be falling over themselves to join the post-World Cup exodus from the Antipodes to Europe and Japan. 

    But while many in the game see this as a negative step, particularly in international terms, the ARU’s decision to allow players in the twilight of their careers increase their earning potential while still earning Test caps should be applauded.

    It is by no means a perfect solution, but instead a recognition of the current state of the global game.

    Players know they can make much more money in the northern hemisphere than in the south. Why should countries like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa be penalised because of the inevitable drain of talent?

    But is fair to deny internationals who have paid their dues the chance to cash in on their ability? After all, the announcement that Wallabies coach Michael Cheika would be able to pick overseas players came with a couple of sizeable caveats.

    Yes, he will now be able to look beyond Super Rugby for talent, but he won’t have free rein.

    Anyone hoping to play international rugby for Australia while picking up their wages in France or Japan, will have to have 60 caps to their name and have served seven years under the ARU.

    Those are intelligent safeguards, meaning players will not be tempted away while they are too young and ensuring their peak years are spent in green and gold.

    South Africa continue to use Bryan Habana.

    They will have noted the similar stance already adopted by South Africa, who have managed to stay competitive despite allowing the likes of Bryan Habana and Francois Louw to play abroad.

    In England, fans are constantly told that a relaxing of the rules would inevitably lead to an irreversible exodus of talent. You only have to look at the Springboks to realise that this is palpably untrue.

    In the short term, yesterday’s move from the ARU could boost the Wallabies’ World Cup hopes as Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell come into contention for selection.

    But in the long term, the change in tack could help keep the game in Australia afloat. Union in the country has been losing the battle against other codes for years now and encouraging some of their stellar names back into the fold could have a profound impact.

    But while the ARU have taken this step almost out of necessity, other unions are unlikely to see things in a similar light.

    New Zealand have seen a host of their own stars, Dan Carter included, commit to leaving after the World Cup, but they are not facing a crisis.

    Firstly, union is embedded far more in the country; no Kiwi is going to turn their back on the All Blacks because Richie McCaw heads to Europe.

    Secondly, the New Zealand Rugby Union has a proven conveyor belt of talent – if Carter leaves, Aaron Cruden or Beauden Barrett will fill his boots.

    The Rugby Football Union (RFU) is unlikely to change its viewpoint either; even if it should.

    There are not too many 60-cap Englishman playing in France, after all, but while this announcement has been seen by some as a death knell for the international game in reality it is a decision that could end up saving it.