Here’s the lowdown on World Rugby’s Regulation 8, which governs players' international eligibility

What are rugby’s international eligibility rules?

There has been a fair bit of chat during Rugby World Cup 2019 about players’ eligibility. So what are rugby’s international eligibility rules? This all falls under World Rugby’s Regulation 8 and here we break it down.

Which country can a player represent?

There are four ways a player can be eligible to represent a country at international level. They are:

  1. They were born in the country.
  2. They have a parent or grandparent who was born in the country.
  3. They have lived in the country for 36 consecutive months (three years) to qualify on residency immediately before playing.
  4. They have completed ten years of cumulative residence in the country before playing.
What are rugby’s international eligibility rules?

Long stay: Kiwi Hadleigh Parkes qualified for Wales on the three-year residency rule (Getty Images)

With regards to point three, the residency rule increases to 60 months (five years) on 31 December 2020, so only players who moved countries up to 31 December 2017 will be eligible under the three-year rule above. Anyone who has moved since the start of this year will be subject to the five-year rule.

Point four was another reform introduced at the same time as the five-year rule but came into use in May 2017.

When is a player ‘captured’ by a country?

Captured is the term used when a player becomes tied to one country and can no longer represent another nation on the international stage. This happens when a player plays for one of three teams:

  1. The senior 15-a-side national representative team of a union. This is quite simple and basically means playing in a Test match, eg England v Ireland in the Six Nations.
  2. The next senior 15-a-side national representative team of a union. This is where it gets slightly complicated as each union may have a different idea of what to nominate as their second team. It could be an A team, like England Saxons, but it’s up to each union to decide which team they want to designate as their ‘next senior’ side. In the past some unions have nominated their U20 side, but since the start of 2018 they are no longer able to do that.
  3. The senior national representative sevens team of a union where the player is aged 20 or older or, if at an Olympics or Sevens World Cup, the player has reached the age of majority (18).

You can find a list of a union’s next senior representative teams on the World Rugby website here. In the women’s game a lot of unions don’t have a second team to nominate but England, for example, have this year designated their National Academy as the next senior side while the likes of Canada, Ireland, Scotland and USA have designated their A teams.


Does it depend who they play against?

Yes, this is what makes the rules so complex! It’s not just about the team the player is representing but the team they are facing.

The opposition team at 15-a-side level also need to fulfil the criteria laid out above for a player to be ‘captured’. So a player is deemed to have ‘played’ for one of those teams listed above if they have reached the age of majority and:

  1. They play in an international match against the senior 15-a-side or next senior 15-a-side representative team of another union.
  2. They play in a match for the nominated next 15-a-side national representative team against the senior or next 15-a-side national representative team of another union.
  3. Prior to 1 January 2018, they played for an U20 national representative team that had been nominated as that union’s ‘next’ 15-a-side team in an international match at the Junior World Championship, Junior World Trophy or U20 Six Nations.

Rule three has been changed since the Steve Shingler case a few years ago. Andy Robinson picked him in his Scotland squad for the 2012 Six Nations but the WRU successfully lodged an appeal with World Rugby to say he had been captured by Wales.

He had represented the national U20 team – nominated as Wales’ ‘next’ 15-a-side team – against France U20, who were the French union’s ‘next’ team. The fact that both U20 teams were the ‘next’ representative sides meant the fixture tied players to their respective countries.

After that and while U20 teams were still allowed to be nominated as a union’s ‘next’ team, the opposition was no longer taken into account.

The lines are still very blurred, though, and the fact the opposition is a factor at senior level adds to the confusion. A rule of thumb is that players will not be captured unless they are playing against a capturing team.

What are rugby’s international eligibility rules?

No ties: Mike Haley playing for England Saxons against South Africa A in 2016 (Getty Images)

For example, Mike Haley played for England against the Barbarians in an uncapped match in May 2017 and for the Saxons against South Africa A in June 2016.

However, he has not been captured by England because the Barbarians are classed as a club side and South Africa U20 were South Africa’s next senior team in 2016. So Haley is leaving Sale to join Munster at the end of the season with a view to representing Ireland at international level – he qualifies to wear the green shirt because his maternal grandmother was born in Ireland.

Interestingly, World Rugby’s stance on the Barbarians means that even when countries make a fixture against the invitational side a capped match, as Wales have done in recent years, they are not officially captured because the match they’re playing in does not fit World Rugby’s criteria. So theoretically, if a player won their first cap against the Barbarians, they would still be free to represent another country at international level (if they haven’t been previously captured by one of the other criteria of course!).

What about sevens?

This is slightly simpler in that a player is deemed to have represented the senior national sevens team, and is therefore tied to that country, if they play an international match against the senior national sevens team of another union.

So this would be any match on the World Sevens Series (providing the player had reached the age of 20) or any match at an Olympics or Sevens World Cup (providing they have reached the age of majority on or before their participation in the tournament).

Has the Olympics created a loophole?

Yes. Rugby’s entry into the Games has meant players are able to switch allegiance. The Olympics operates with different eligibility rules so rugby had to adapt to this.

Prior to the Rio Olympics, if a player had been captured by one nation but hadn’t represented that country for at least 18 months (that stand-down period has now reverted to the IOC norm of three years) and was a passport holder of another (ie a national), they were able to change their affiliation to the other nation.

The stipulation was that the player had to play in four Olympic qualifying events. This could be four rounds of the World Sevens Series, which doubled as an Olympic qualifying tournament, and/or regional qualifying tournaments.

What are rugby’s international eligibility rules?

On the move: Tim Nanai-Williams breaks for Samoa against New Zealand (Getty Images)

Tim Nanai-Williams did this in order to be able to represent Samoa at RWC 2015 and the Olympics (although ultimately Samoa failed to qualify for Rio 2016), having previously played for New Zealand Sevens.

Cooper Vuna has done the same, so is now representing Tonga having played two Tests for Australia in 2012.

There are rumours that former All Blacks wings Charles Piutau and Frank Halai would like to go through the process in order to qualify for Tonga.

It’s all very confusing!

Quite. And the recent incidents surrounding World Cup qualifying illustrate why eligibility needs to be far more closely monitored. Tahiti have already been kicked out of the qualifying process for fielding two ineligible players against Cook Islands while the spotlight is now on several European countries for possible breaches of Regulation 8.

It may be relatively easy to keep track of whether players have been captured by the Tier One nations as they are more high profile, but it is clear that in lower tiers there are many issues and that brings the integrity of international rugby into question.

Regardless of whether a breach is intentional or not, the confusion around Regulation 8 is leading to myriad problems. The fact players may not even be aware if they are tied to a nation highlights the issue.

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