New World Rugby rules will lift up small nations and should benefit the whole game | Rugby World Cup

When World Rugby announced that the eligibility laws were going to change this week, I found myself joking that I am currently available to play for Nigeria. Just kidding because it’s just a little too late for me – I’m not sure I got selected! – but it made me think if there is something I can do to help grow and develop the sport in a country I have great affection for, the place where it all started for me.

I hope I’m not the only one because the change opens up so many possibilities for current players but also for people to help in other ways. I hope this rule really arouses a positive mindset in people. The world is a smaller place – more and more players and former players will have roots or a legacy in more than one country – and that’s something to celebrate. Since rugby turned professional there hasn’t been a lot of diversity in the teams at the top of the world game, but hopefully this is the start of something that can change that.

My other hope is that the rule is not exploited in some way. It is a professional sport and in professional sport there are rarely rules where loopholes are not looked for and the system is not played. There are always unintended consequences, but if this rule is used wisely, it can be of tremendous benefit to developing countries.

On a basic human level, it will be heartwarming to think of the supporters of Tonga, Samoa or Fiji, who have followed players from afar, seeing them coming “home”, so to speak. It must be such an exciting time for them and I am sure they are already picking their dream teams for the 2023 World Cup. It is ironic that for reasons beyond their control, Samoa are severely exhausted when they face the Barbarians at Twickenham on Saturday. At least their supporters have been encouraged this week, knowing that in the not too distant future their ranks will be considerably strengthened.

Fijian fans in Cardiff ahead of their game against Wales this month. They may have a few more stars to cheer on under the new rules. Photography: Simon King / ProSports / Shutterstock

It is important to consider the short and long term impacts of this decision and, in the short term, a World Cup is on the horizon. It is also important to recognize that it is not only the Pacific island nations that will benefit, but there are many reasons why they provide the best examples. And if you think of the World Cups, no one wants to be drawn in the same pool as Samoa, Tonga or Fiji anyway – all the more so now.

They will be reinforced by some players who may not be at their peak anymore but who can bring with them so much in-depth knowledge, insight and intelligence on what it takes to perform at the highest level in a competitive environment. elite. It will be just as valuable as what they can do in the field. On top of that, you have a slice of players who have been left in the wilderness. Players who may be in the prime of their lives but who have been selected once or twice by a nation and therefore, although they are of international quality, they have been excluded.

It’s not quite a restriction on trade, but now a huge opportunity has opened up for them. They probably had to make a huge decision over the rest of their careers at a young age, but now they got a second chance because it’s just sad when you see players take that leap, get a handful of caps and then leave In the cold. It’s an opportunity for players to relaunch their careers and for some developing countries to pick up players who will strengthen their ambitions and hopefully make the World Cup much more competitive.

In the long run, however, the key is to build on that and try to implement pathways for players so that they don’t just want to play for their country while being based in a foreign league. This means that unions in developing countries are putting their houses in order, using good governance to make their national competitions more attractive.

One of the potential problems with the move is that players who were signed by their clubs on the basis that they would not be lost for the international circuit now find themselves in a difficult position. It is much less of a problem, however, if clubs from their own country are an attractive proposition.

It is also important to recognize that while the change has been generally well received, there will always be downsides. The cynical part of me sees how the system can be leveraged and my concern would be players from developing countries looking to join clubs in established leagues, take their chances and try to try their luck with the national team.

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They could go on to have successful careers with this nation or they could win one or two caps and then sign a three-year deal – with the extra bargaining chip that they’ll be out of the international circuit while they retire – Then head home.

It’s a situation that I can unfortunately envision but in rugby sometimes you can focus too much on the problems and negatives and overall this change can be a force for good.


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