Sydney - The Australian Rugby Union reacted to the flood of top players heading abroad with a groundbreaking policy shift which will allow experienced Wallabies playing at foreign clubs to be selected for test matches.
Effective immediately, players with 60 caps who have played for seven years in Super Rugby with an Australian team will be eligible to continue their international careers even if they are signed to a club overseas.
Other players based abroad will immediately become eligible if they commit to playing Super Rugby in Australia for the following two seasons.
“For some time we've been grappling with the issue of overseas clubs recruiting our players,” ARU chief executive Bill Pulver told reporters.
“While we do not belief these policy changes are a silver bullet, we do believe that they represent a positive step towards delivering the outcomes we want.”
Flyhalf Matt Giteau and winger Drew Mitchell, who both play for Toulon, as well as flanker George Smith, who also plays in France, would immediately qualify to play at the World Cup later this year.
Wallabies Will Genia, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Nic White, Peter Betham, Sekope Kepu and James Horwill are all off to European clubs for next year, while Wycliff Palu is decamping to Japan.
Media reports on Wednesday said flyhalf Quade Cooper was on the verge of signing for Toulon and two other high profile Wallabies backs, Israel Folau and Kurtley Beale, have yet to commit to the ARU beyond the end of the season.
Of those, only outside back Ashley-Cooper has passed the 60-cap threshold but prop Kepu, lock Horwill, Cooper and number eight Palu could reach the mark this season.
“It is deliberately a high number,” Pulver added. “It ensures only the truly elite players overseas will be eligible and it provides real incentive for younger elite players to stay in Australia longer in order to meet that threshold.”
The ARU's parlous financial position - losses of A$6.3 million ($4.89 million) for 2014 were announced this week - has made it hard for them to counter offers from wealthy European clubs.
Pulver said the ARU was going to be more aggressive about repatriating players in the future and hoped the new policy would make Australians less attractive to foreign clubs.
“I think to some extent historically, foreign clubs have looked at Australian talent as an easy target because of the policy we had,” he said.
“With World Rugby's Regulation Nine, we clearly have the capability to pull them out of club competition to play international rugby and maybe they'll think twice about recruiting some of these players.” – Reuters