A 57-22 humbling at the hands of New Zealand has revived debate regarding Australian rugby’s eligibility rules and the ‘Giteau Law’, which could be scrapped as soon as this year.
The Wallabies failed to win the Bledisloe Cup for a 19th year running after suffering a second straight loss to the All Blacks on Saturday, conceding a record sum in the clash at Eden Park.
It appears that disappointment has encouraged rugby’s leaders in the country to accelerate the recent discourse suggesting Giteau’s Law could be overhauled or cut altogether.
Chief executive Andy Marinos told the Sydney Morning Herald Rugby Australia will address the matter, suggesting change is coming after the country has slipped behind its peers.
"We do need to look into eligibility. I'm not saying it's going to be alpha and omega. But it will certainly bring a lot more experience and a lot more depth across the board,” he said.
"When you look at the pool of talent from which we are selecting in comparison to our biggest rivals; be it New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, England – they have access and the ability to choose their very best players no matter where they're playing."
Introduced in 2015 as a means of recalling Matt Giteau—then playing for Toulon in France—to the squad for that year’s Rugby World Cup, the rule allowed players to represent the Wallabies if they had 60 Tests and spent seven seasons in Australia.
Players were also eligible if they had signed a contract to play in Super Rugby for at least two more years.
While the move may have been considered progress at the time, many have deemed the restrictions outdated.
Prior to Giteau’s Law being introduced, only players plying their trade in Australia were eligible to represent the national team, restricting their selection options significantly.
But coach Dave Rennie could see his process opened up to any player in time for the November Tests series, regardless of whether they play club rugby in Australia, France, England or elsewhere.
Marinos, 48, previously directed the Springboks in numerous managerial roles before he became CEO of SANZAAR in January 2016.
It was during his time in that role—in May 2018—that South Africa did away with a law preventing overseas-based players with fewer than 30 caps representing the national team.
“I’ve lived through this and I’ve seen this movie before, when I was in the director of rugby role in South Africa. We were faced with exactly the same scenario,” Marinos added.
“I’m not saying what worked in South Africa is the recipe for here. But we have to look at the eligibility piece to make sure we have the best players available to play week in, week out.”
The Springboks were crowned Rugby World Cup champions in 2019, which is evidence of the benefits to be had from allowing national team players to get experience further afield.
Australia currently allows for two players who did not fit the Giteau Law criteria and are not contracted with any Super Rugby franchise to be selected.
Toulon star Duncan Paia’aua and Tokyo Sungoliath’s Samu Kerevi are the current duo among Rennie’s selection fulfilling that allowance.
But it’s suggested the 60-cap minimum could be reduced to as little as 15 or 20 Tests, although others will still demand there be no restrictions when it comes to selection.
Star Wallabies winger Marika Koroibete has agreed to join Saitama Wild Knights in Japan on a reported four-year contract in 2022, which could rule the 37-cap star out of the international game.
Northampton Saints winger Taqele Naiyaravoro was considered one of Australia's best prospects when he emerged at Waratahs in 2015.
However, he's played for the country on just two occasions after opting for more lucrative moves to Scotland, Japan and England, where he's spent the last three years.
Marinos continued: “I’m not saying we have to open the gates completely. Not at all. But we have to be more specific in identifying where we need to bolster the team, so that when we put a team out on the field we have the best against the best.
“We need to be able to choose from as broad of a pool as possible. That’s all part of building a high-performance program.”
Drew Mitchell was a team-mate of Giteau’s at Toulon when his namesake law was introduced, as well as a beneficiary who was then allowed to be part of the Wallabies’ 2015 World Cup squad.
He tweeted in support of the rule being overhauled, suggesting Australian talents are already leaving the country in droves even with the law in place: “Amen!!
“People talking about the fact it would cause an ‘exodus’ of players heading overseas clearly haven’t seen the amount of ppl already leaving our shores anyway.
“The @wallabies is the greatest Rugby Union representative team in Australia….. Pick the BEST!!”
Giteau himself was in support of the move and jokingly replied: “Agreed beefy.. Can we not create a new law though and keep the name?”
The Sydney Morning Herald counted 88 players currently playing abroad who meet the minimum seven seasons of Super Rugby experience, including stars like Will Skelton, Will Genia and Sekope Kepu.
Japanese clubs in particular have grown in recent years to become an even more lucrative destination for players in the southern hemisphere, drawing some of the best talents on the planet.
New Zealand Rugby still requires players to have a contract with them before they can pull on the All Blacks jersey.
However, senior stars such as Beauden Barrett and Brodie Retallick have been permitted sabbatical periods to earn higher wages in Japan, with the understanding they’ll return to New Zealand.
Former All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams—who also enjoyed a money-spinning spell at Toulon—recently agreed Giteau’s Law needed addressing to optimise the Wallabies’ talents.
During an appearance on Stan Sport’s Rugby Heaven , ‘SBW’ called for Australia to focus on financing rugby union at grassroots level, instead of spending top dollar keeping established talents in the country.
Marinos suggested investment in union’s youth structure will be a focus, with rugby league, Aussie rules, cricket and soccer among the country’s more popular sports.
He concluded: “We need to be able to invest into grassroots, so we are building a pathway for the future. We need additional investment in the game, so we can retain and invest into our high-performance program, so we improve each week and we have the best available talent.”
The Wallabies will finish this year’s Rugby Championship before travelling to face Scotland, England and Wales in November, by which point their player pool could be drastically bigger.
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