It’s time for the ARU to review their decision regarding the Wallabies rugby stars being able to play overseas and still be eligible for selection to play for Australia.
The ARU has feared local rugby will be weakened by its Test players leaving the country to maximise their incomes.
To protect their local competitions and TV ratings, Australia and New Zealand – but not South Africa – introduced a policy of making overseas based players ineligible for the Wallabies or All Blacks.
This policy clearly disadvantages Australia as its depth of talent is not as deep as New Zealand.
To stay at the top of the IRB rankings Australia needs as much competition as possible for each position within the Wallabies.
The Australian selectors should able to select the very best eligible player for each position, from anywhere in the world.
Some say we cannot allow all our talent to leave, that this will weaken the local competition and ruin Australian Rugby.
In my opinion, comments like these are a knee-jerk reaction.
The current policy seems unfair as it forces the best players to stay in Australia if they want to represent their country. At whatever cost to the player and whatever cost to the team’s performance.
Let’s assume the stars are going to leave anyway, what then?
Imagine not being able to select the following because they want to play overseas: James O’Conner, Kurtley Beale, David Pocock (when fit), Michael Hooper, Berrick Barnes, Wycliff Palu and Will Genia. In the past, George Smith and Matt Giteau.
This would obviously be a mistake.
The ARU should amend its rules to allow those Wallabies who meet specific thresholds of having represented their country to play overseas.
An example of the rule change could be the following: A player having had played 60 Tests or more for Australia may continue to be eligible to be selected for the Wallabies, whether they chose to play in Australia or not.
Only three Wallabies currently qualify (Adam Ashley Cooper, Drew Mitchell and Stephen Moore) but the list will grow in the future. I would hate like to see the prodigious talent of James O’Connor or Kurtley Beale – when they are in their prime having played 60 Tests – to not be eligible for the Wallabies.
Australia has already lost George Smith (110 Tests) and Matt Giteau (93 Tests) in the past, there is no need for the ARU to make the same mistake.
The ARU provides training and support, as well as creating the opportunity for players to become famous and earn large incomes. They should include transfer fees in player’s contracts for them to play overseas.
The biggest benefits to the ARU would be the additional income on transfer fees, like soccer, as well as not having to pay heavy top up fees to keep the stars in Australia.
Australian Rugby would benefit by having more money to expand the game at grass roots, increasing local player numbers and unearthing more talent.
There is an argument that the star players based overseas lose their edge. This is not fact, only speculation.
Even if we do assume they have lost their edge, is a ‘good’ Michael Hooper or a Liam Gill better than a George Smith who is off the pace?
I would take George – or a player like him in the future – and see if the current crop of up-and-coming stars are any better.
To keep the current status quo of artificial restraints on experienced Wallabies is not in Australia’s best interest.
It’s time for the current ARU management to provide some fresh thinking to deliver the best outcomes for the benefit of Australian rugby.