Bundee Aki could still play for Ireland this year even if residency rule changes
Bundee Aki could still make his Ireland debut in November - even if World Rugby extends the residency-rule qualification period to five years in May.
Connacht's New Zealand-born centre Aki will complete three years' residency in Ireland in October, in time to feature in the autumn Tests under the current regulations.
At their council meeting in May, World Rugby could vote to extend the residency qualification period that allows players to be naturalised and represent a new nation from three years to five.
But the Press Association understands the game's governing body will include a cooling-off grace period before enforcing any residency-rule extension, to stop players being caught in limbo.
World Rugby's plans will allay fears for a host of players who could have failed to complete residency qualification were a new five-year timescale to come straight into force in May.
Line-breaking centre Aki already qualifies for New Zealand and Samoa, but is likely to be parachuted straight into Joe Schmidt's Ireland squad on his October qualification.
Aki is the highest-profile player currently closing in on residency qualification, a thorny issue that continues to divide opinion in the sport.
Former Argentina scrum-half Gus Pichot has made extending the residency qualification period his main aim since assuming his role as World Rugby vice chairman.
Ireland and Scotland have been among the top sides targeting project players for their provincial sides, to naturalise those recruits for Test rugby.
The likes of CJ Stander and Jared Payne have thrived in Ireland's ranks, while England have also got in on the act thanks to Wasps' Fiji-born Nathan Hughes stepping into Eddie Jones' squad.
Aki has yet to commit himself to Ireland's cause, but has previously revealed talks with head coach Schmidt over his progress in Connacht's colours.
The 26-year-old has recently signed a new three-year deal with the Galway province, and should be a dead-cert for Ireland action should he declare for Schmidt's men.