Extension of residency rule hailed as an historic moment for Test game
World Rugby yesterday took a large step towards limiting the phenomenon of so-called 'project players' in the Test game with the decision to change the residency period from three to five years.
Under current laws, a player residing in a country for 36 consecutive months is then eligible for the national side, with Ireland having used this to their advantage in recent seasons through the likes of Ulster's Jared Payne and Munster's CJ Stander, while Bundee Aki, Tyler Bleyendaal and Wiehahn Herbst will all also qualify in the next six months.
The move comes in an effort to protect the interests of smaller nations, most importantly the Pacific Islands, and put an end to the 'player drain' that has seen promising talents switch allegiance to bigger sides.
It has been a cause adopted by World Rugby vice-chairman Agustin Pichot in recent times, with the vote being passed unanimously in Kyoto yesterday prior to the World Cup Pool draw.
"This is an historic moment for the sport and a great step towards protecting the integrity, ethos and stature of international rugby," Pichot said.
"National team representation is the reward for devoting your career and your rugby life to your nation.
"These amendments will ensure that the international arena is full of players devoted to their nation, who got there on merit."
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont added that it was a "necessary step" to protect the Test game, with one famous example of the problems with the current system coming last November when all four wingers in France's meeting with Australia were of Fijian origin.
"This reform of Regulation 8 governing eligibility is an important and necessary step to protecting the integrity and credibility of international rugby," said Beaumont.
"This extension to the residency period within a forward-thinking reform package will ensure a close, credible and established link between a union and players, which is good for rugby and good for fans."
The new law will only come into place on December 31, 2020, however, meaning that new arrivals like Schalk van der Merwe, who is joining Ulster, and Leinster's latest recruit James Lowe, will still have time to qualify under the old three-year period.
A World Rugby statement read: "Designed to promote and protect the integrity and sanctity of international rugby in the modern elite environment, reform of Regulation 8 follows a root-and-branch review with council members unanimously approving the recommended increase in the required residency period to be eligible for international rugby from 36 to 60 months.
"The reformed Regulation 8 ensures that a player has a genuine, close, credible and established link with the nation of representation."