World Rugby has approved a landmark change to its eligibility laws that will allow players to switch test nations and significantly strengthen developing countries in time for the 2023 World Cup.
In a game-changing move for the sport, players who meet the criteria will be able to switch nation starting in January with the Pacific Islands among the teams set to reap the most rewards.
The change means Charles Piutau, who has 17 caps for the All Blacks, will be free to represent Tonga, as will Israel Folau, George Moala and Vaea Fifita. England’s 2023 World Cup group stage opponents Samoa could be bolstered by former New Zealand opening half Lima Sopoaga, Bristol captain Steven Luatua, Julian Savea and Denny Solomona, who won five caps under Eddie Jones. The move also allows Billy and Mako Vunipola to play for Tonga in 2024 if they wish, as well as Manu Tuilagi for Samoa.
Players are eligible to change nation if they have been removed from office for three years – in other words, have not been selected for 36 months – and if, or a parent or grandparent , were born in the country they wish to represent.
A change can only be made once and the change takes effect from the beginning of next year. In England’s case, Alex Lozowski would now be eligible to move to Italy, but Jake Polledri would, in theory, be available to move in the other direction in 2023.
The motion was passed by the World Rugby board and required a 75% majority. It is understood that the threshold was only reached after sustained lobbying by World Rugby President Bill Beaumont, who pledged to make changes as part of his manifesto for re-election. It is also understood that New Zealander Joe Schmidt, former head coach of Ireland and now director of rugby at the World Governing Body, was also instrumental in gathering support. The Rugby Football Union voted in favor of the change.
“The approval of this historic regulatory change is the culmination of detailed and widespread modeling and consultation across the game,” said Beaumont. “We have listened to our members and players and sought to update the regulations recognizing the environment of modern professional rugby without compromising the integrity of the international game. “
While less advertised nations should benefit – the Tonga rugby league team has been transformed since a similar change was introduced in this code – players can also move from developing nations to established nations, prompting some observers to urge caution.
The counter-argument is that, for example, a Pacific Islander heritage player may be more likely to pursue a career with an established nation in their prime, knowing that they can see the final stages with Tonga, Fiji or the Samoa. The general reaction to the move, however, has been largely positive, with World Rugby seeing Spain, Portugal and Namibia as examples of the types of nations that will benefit the most.
The change also means that players who have been “captured” by appearing for a nation’s second team – either an “A” team or an Under-20 team – are free to represent a different country provided that they meet the criteria. It was a move that denied Carl Fearns the opportunity to change his allegiance to France while playing there and ultimately led to Russia qualifying for the 2019 World Cup following sanctions against Spain. , Romania and Belgium for ineligible players.
Meanwhile, Australia is set to win the 2027 World Cup after being heralded as World Rugby’s preferred contender and the United States is the frontrunner for the 2031 tournament after entering exclusive talks with the governing body.
Australia was generally expected to host the tournament in six years time, but the emergence of the United States as favorites for the next competition is a significant development. The RFU had shown keen interest in bidding but prioritized the 2025 women’s tournament.
England were announced as the preferred candidate for this competition on Wednesday. RFU Managing Director Bill Sweeney said: “We are delighted to have secured the preferred candidate status for the 2025 Rugby World Cup. To welcome her will be amazing, our ambition is to host the World Cup. busiest female ever, with domestic qualifiers and a sold-out Final at Twickenham Stadium. We look forward to working with World Rugby and the government to make this happen. “