World Rugby, tell Euro clubs to buzz off!

Joshua Brown

In sports such as football and cricket, the international game does not always take preference to every other level in the sport.

International football mostly takes a backseat to the more lucrative club game between World Cups, while it’s becoming increasingly more common for cricketers to opt out of Test cricket in order to make more money in T20 leagues around the world.

Not so in rugby.

Test rugby remains the highest level of the game and something resembling cricket’s Kolpak rule (allowing foreign players to participate in England’s county cricket while foregoing their right to play international games) cannot legally exist in rugby.

While the trend of rugby players choosing the greener pastures of European and Japanese clubs certainly hurts the domestic game, detrimental effects to the international brand can be avoided.

Rassie Erasmus has so far exercised his right to select overseas-based players, thanks to SA Rugby scrapping their short-lived, 30-Test eligibility law, and this ensures the Boks are able to field their strongest team possible.

European clubs have never been the most cooperative sort when it comes to nations calling up their most valuable and expensive internationals, but these clubs have historically done little more than grumble and moan. However, as Test nations have increasingly embraced their foreign-based resources, European clubs have shifted from being uncooperative to outright resistant.

Last week, Leicester Tigers stated they expected both of Australia’s Tatafu Polota-Nau and Matt Toomua to return to the England during the Rugby Championship, and similar reports emerged regarding Sale Sharks halfback Faf de Klerk.

Dai Young said that he hadn’t planned on Willie Le Roux playing for South Africa this year and the Wasp’s Director of Rugby went on to say the club only expected Le Roux would be gone for three weeks before returning, after which “he may go back for one more game.”

World Rugby has taken a clear stance on Unions selecting overseas-based players, stating that no club, “whether by contract, conduct or otherwise may inhibit, prevent, discourage, disincentivise or render unavailable any Player from selection [by] a National Representative Team.”

Why, then, does it appear European clubs are doing just that?

The answer can be found in the strict understanding of the Rugby Championship’s international window which only covers the six weeks where matches are played, while the two ‘off’ weekends fall outside the window. European clubs are arguing that their players must be returned to them on these weekends.

At first it seems the clubs have every right to make such a request, even though it is clearly made in the hopes of discouraging Unions from selecting their players. However, Regulation 9.33 (which directly addresses the selection of northern-based players by one of the four Rugby Championship Unions) clarifies the matter.

It states that the Rugby Championship nations may exercise their right to call up players contracted to “Rugby Bodies or Clubs in the northern hemisphere” for all “eight weeks out of the eight week period.”

It’s a clear and simple reading of the rugby law and, by pressuring Unions to release their players during the Championship, European clubs are breaking said law.

World Rugby still has a chance to uphold the international game above all else in the sport and stem the rising trend of clubs telling Unions what to do, rather than the other way around. All it requires is for them to enforce the rules they wrote.

After all, as World Rugby’s Handbook reminds us: “the future development and extension of the sport at all levels and throughout the world would be threatened if a Union was not able to select and have available the Players it requires.”

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Follow Joshua on Twitter: @BalcombBrown

- Joshua Brown

Let's chat

  • Barry Smith

    If World Rugby had got its act together and finalised a global rugby Callender, then these issues would be minimised.
    There is also a distinct Old Boys club in the ranks, so I doubt matters South African are of high priority to them!

  • Wesley

    This is simple. Follow the laws or see yourself fined or worse. Why is World Rugby even entertaining this. I get that they dont want to chase or scare investors but if you invest you agree to the rules, like any kind of investment or contract in the world. Kinda shows how the rich just bends the rules to aquire more at the detrement to the rest. Seems par for the course with them….

  • Augusto

    FREE WILLY…………………………..

    • Herman Schroder?

      Good one, lol. Cheers.

  • Nick

    Well framed josh. The greatest danger to rugby everywhere is clubs running the game. Make no mistake, the English and French national teams are also held by the short and curleys via the club’s. They’ve practically destroyed the French national game, as they have exploited ours.

    It’s one thing destroying the national game within their own countries, but to do the same to other national unions is barefaced Robbery.

    The players don’t always mind either . Big bucks, faarrrr easier training schedules. I take my hat off to the likes of faf and Willie who have actually shown up. Guaranteed bismark and frans wanted the royal treatment from rassie, which he responded to by leaving those two out.

    Well done rassie

    • Graham

      It doent seem like Rassie has much say. Why would any coach be ok with leaving such a vital part of his spine out of a competition (8; 9 and 15)that could determine his whole tenure as bok coach? We just got out of, by my opinion, the worst period in bok history, winning is way too important no matter what he says. I agree totally with this article, I am dumbfounded that clubs dictate the terms against nations. I dont want rugby to become like soccer where the glory lies in clubs and how much you can earn there

  • Herman Schroder?

    What’s going to happen is that players will retire from test rugby if they feel they can earn more by remaining with their clubs. It’s even more problematic for ‘white’ SA players who feel that they will not get chosen on merit alone and will rather stay where the grass is greener. The Lions player exodus en masse is a forerunner of this.

    So Rassie who thought he had solved the ’30 test’ window problem could find he won’t be getting the players he wants after all. I’ve previously stated that overseas players should not be included and to build from within. He has got the licence to cock up without fear of dismissal so why not try it now with ten tests remaining this year. Over to you Rassie.

  • Albert

    Surely, if World Rugby have a rule in place where clubs can not dictate participation during the international window, then these clubs should be receiving fines for doing just that? The bottom line is that countries such as South Africa can not compete with the higher salaries and currencies of other countries. Rassie knows from experience that a players career is short and they need to max out while they can in order to secure a good future for themselves, and this isn’t just monetary terms. Look at how many players have retired and stayed abroad because their lives have been improved immeasurably. They have made contacts and settled.

    Instead of fighting it, we need a international rugby calendar and for World Rugby to actually clamp down on clubs who refuse to release players or treat players unfairly if they want to play for the countries.

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