Tue. Jul 5th, 2022

Rugby Australia has gambled on the Wallabies jersey being a strong enough lure to keep players at home.

At the same time, Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has had his ability to pick who he wants reined in.

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As reported earlier in the month, the Giteau Law has been overhauled and replaced by the sterile Overseas Player Selection Policy.

Ever since Michael Cheika shifted the goalposts to allow French-based Matt Giteau to play for the Wallabies at the 2015 World Cup, RA could call upon players who had played 60 Tests and given seven years of service in Australian rugby.

The goalposts were extended in 2020 and used last year to allow for players who did not meet that criteria to be called up, with the Covid pandemic used as a reason for Dave Rennie to call up influential players in what have been exceptional times.

While Quade Cooper already qualified, Samu Kerevi did not and together the duo changed the narrative of the Wallabies for a short while at least.

The expansion of the eligibility laws were celebrated across the world, with many believing RA was moving with the times and putting the Wallabies back on the global map.

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Quade Cooper was brought back into the fold last year.  (Photo by Albert Perez / Getty Images)
Quade Cooper was brought back into the fold last year. (Photo by Albert Perez / Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Yet, the states were increasingly restless because it effectively opened the doors for players to leave and believe they still stood a chance of wearing the Wallabies jersey.

That door has been largely shut down, as RA seeks one final push to keep players at home.

With a British and Irish Lions series set in stone for 2025 and a home World Cup in 2027 all but locked in, RA hopes players will think twice about leaving Australia for riches overseas.

RA cannot match the figures competitions in England, France and Japan can offer, as shown by Nick Frost’s decision to leave, but it hopes the Wallabies jersey will keep the masses from leaving.

The decision of the RA board, with former Wallabies Daniel Herbert and Phil Waugh leading the high performance review, means Rennie will only be able to pick three players from overseas for any one tournament.

Nor will it be any old player, with eligible candidates needing to play either 30 Tests or spent five years Australian rugby.

How RA came up with the numbers comes down to the fact that some players – Rory Arnold and Will Skelton – have not played 30 Tests, while others like Marika Koroibete only played five years in Australia before heading overseas.

Since day one, Rennie has publicly said he supports RA’s desire not to throw open the borders.

But he must faces the difficult and delicate challenge of working out which chess piece to move.

Kerevi was a standout for the Wallabies last year. (Photo by Jono Searle / Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

It is understood that Rennie is particularly interested in four offshore players.

All four – playmaker Cooper, midfielder Kerevi, winger Koroibete and forward Rory Arnold – will be based in Japan once the latter moves east from France at season’s end.

Hooker Tolu Latu is another player of interest, but unless there is an injury crisis in the position he will resist calling up the Paris-based rake.

“These amendments reflect a fit-for-purpose policy which will help our national teams compete at their best on the international stage across both the XVs and 7s games,” RA CEO Andy Marinos said.

“The updated policy follows extensive consideration and consultation, to ensure we could find the right balance between the importance of selecting players within our domestic competition structures, while also allowing the selection of overseas players as an exception, rather than a rule and only if that player has made a significant contribution to the game in Australia.

“Rugby is a global sport and we recognize the challenging environment we operate within where we realize we cannot keep all players on our shores.

“This policy shows we will continue to prioritize the players that are playing in Australia.

These will be the first group of players considered for international selection before further consideration is given to any players playing abroad. Our national coaches and high-performance teams support this approach as they feel that our continued improvement on the world stage is best achieved through the localized and aligned management of our playing groups.

Tolu Latu is one overseas player of interest to Wallabies coach Dave Rennie. (Photo by Dan Mullan / Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

“Our message is simple, if you want to put yourself in the shop window for international selection you are still best served playing at home.”

Marinos’ final point is poignant.

Kurtley Beale has signed with the Waratahs because he was not in the top-tier picks overseas.

Latu was encouraged to return home, but has re-signed with Stade Francais.

Not everyone will return home, nor can RA afford to bring everyone back.

Instead, they will attempt to keep players of national interest at home by offering sabbatical contracts.

All the while, RA hopes the mouth-watering tournaments on the horizon and the strong prospect of private equity will help get their ducks in a row and keep their best players at home for the crucial next five years.

Even if their plans work out, and an influx of support and momentum returns, RA will not be able to compete with the international markets long-term.

By then though, it is hoped that a resurgence will have taken place in Australian rugby and pillars will be in place to support the grassroots of the game.

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