Monday, 12 May 2014

The eligibility of playing for your country

A debate that keeps rumbling on is English players playing abroad and their ability to be picked for England. Since 2011 England have adopted the stance that to qualify to play for England you need to play in England. There is an "exceptional circumstances' clause but the RFU have yet to use it.

The call for Steffon Armitage to be called up even though he plays in France, being classed as one of the best open side flankers in the game could this be an exceptional circumstance?
Before moving to Toulon Armitage was aware of the RFU's stance yet still took the big money move across the channel, in blunt terms he chose cash over country. 
Picking the strongest team available is what you would want from your national coach and just because Armitage is in France he is still an available English player, so should he and possibly the country be penalised for him accepting a great opportunity when it's presented to him? 
If Lancaster uses the "exceptional circumstances" call for Armitage would this then open the flood gates for other English players to take the chance of helping their retirement fund and taking a bigger pay check and reaping some €uros and still be allowed to represent England. 

The Top14 is loaded with big names after the teams have spent big, so it would be beneficial for players to play and learn from the players who are amongst the best in the world. Knowledge is a powerful thing to have and if you can take some of that from someone it will only improve you, so playing with the best can teach you so much. Allowing players from your country to feature in this league and still play for their respective country could also benefit the national team as well, bringing a wealth of knowledge into the squad and passing that down the line.
I see the concern of the RFU which is they would like to see England's best playing in the Premiership, protecting the league and ensuring the league still remains as exciting as it is. On the flip side of that with the "big boys" playing elsewhere we could see another batch of players coming through the ranks encouraging competition for the positions in the England shirt.
Or could it go down the route of Welsh rugby with a mass exodus and almost leaving the cupboard bare? .

There is an air of hypocrisy in all of this, as the RFU won't pick from English players playing abroad but will pick players from foreign climes who qualify on the 'eligibility' ruling to play for them.
It seems slightly hypocritical that a player who is born, raised and originally played in England won't be picked yet a player who has lived here for 3 or more years, played elsewhere (not internationally) but now lives here is ok to play for England?

Good examples of this hypocrisy are Hendre Fourie and one of the biggest stars in English rugby at the moment Manu Tuilagi. Both players faced deportation, Tuilagi coming to the UK at 13 on a holiday visa and Fourie on a working holiday visa.
Fourie came to the UK to train to be a teacher, he then worked through the ranks of visa's through the clubs he joined. He represented England eight times and he got to a tier 1 highly skilled work permit. Injury saw Fourie miss out on a 2011 England place and moved to Sale, unfortunately injury then forced him to retire just six months before he could gain citizenship. Due to not working as a professional rugby player, but wishing to follow up on his teaching, the UKBA informed him he had to return to SA. Amazingly an ex-English international wasn't allowed to stay in the UK, eventually his deportation was rebutted but he still returned to SA with his wife and British born son.
Tuilagi was slightly different, it wasn't until he was embarking on his professional career following in the footsteps of his brothers playing at Leicester Tigers they discovered he was still here on his holiday visa from six years before. Five out of his six brothers had all played for Samoa so they were allowed a working permit, as Manu wished to play for England his now adopted country he needed to get endorsement from the rugby governing body and the home office to be allowed to play here, the panel agreed but the home office denied him. Protest, pleas and petitions eventually saw the home office overturn the decision, and now a huge part of the English set up.

Looking at these scenarios the RFU's stance on players playing abroad seems a little baffling as they are happy to support players of other nations to become English players. The rugby world has bemoaned New Zealand for their apparent pillaging of the South Pacific Islands and in truth we are just as bad with countries like South Africa and Samoa being prime examples, yet there is this firm stance on players playing abroad.

I am all for wanting the strongest team eligible to play for your country, but I do feel using double standards to get that is wrong. Is forcing a player to choose between cash or country a fair thing to do?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The reason for not allowing foreign-based players to play for England is more than just keeping the English Premiership strong. It's about player release, where the England national team get weeks of any potential England player (including Saxons and 7s players) outside of the actual game weekends. I think there's also a maximum number of games that the top players can play per season so they don't get burned out.

    Also, isn't Stefen Armitage a foreign born player just like Tuilagi and Fourie?

  3. Yes Steffon was born in Trinidad, and moved to the UK when his mother married an Englishman who was originally on holiday there.