Ireland gear up for life without project players as residency period is extended

Irish Rugby has begun adjusting to life without project players by announcing a new player identification programme targeting Irish-qualified talent overseas.

IQ Rugby was announced on the IRFU’s website yesterday by its performance director David Nucifora as global governing body World Rugby made the expected move to bring an end to the controversial practice of encouraging players to switch national allegiances after just three years of residency.

World Rugby yesterday voted to raise the required residency period for Test eligibility from 36 to 60 months, a move which many believe could provide a significant boost for smaller nations such as those from the Pacific Islands who consistently see their most talented players lured overseas.

The new edict will not come into force until 2020, in line with the introduction of a new global calendar, which means that this summer’s round of recruitment in the Northern Hemisphere will be the last for clubs, regions and provinces to attract players with the carrot of not just a big contract relative to their existing circumstances but also an international career at the end of it.

With one door closing, the IRFU are hopeful they can unlock another, with the IQ Rugby programme “responsible for the identification, development and management of overseas Irish qualified talent”.

IQ Rugby will be headed by the IRFU’s new Head of International Talent ID and Development, former rugby league international Joe Lydon.

Its objective is, a statement read: “To broaden the player talent pool available to Irish provinces and representative sides and to complement the player development pathway that has been established within Ireland over the past few years.”

Former Ireland back Kevin Maggs will serve as a Talent Identification coach as will Wayne Mitchell.

Time, though, is running out for Ireland and its rivals to take advantage of “project players”, who have not just been recruited from the impoverished Pacific Islands but also the Southern Hemisphere powerhouses where there is a surfeit of talent and simply not enough team places to satisfy international rugby ambitions.

The quartet of wings which started in last November’s Test between France and Australia were of Fijian origin, England handed a Six Nations debut to Fiji-born No.8 Nathan Hughes this season while two of Ireland’s 11-strong contingent on this summer’s Lions tour to New Zealand are project players CJ Stander and Jared Payne.

They could still be joined in an Ireland squad by Connacht’s centre Bundee Aki, their hooker Tom McCartney and Munster fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal, whose three years’ residency is set to be completed later this year. Yet a definitive line was drawn in the sand yesterday by World Rugby whose vice-chairman Agustin Pichot, the former Argentina star, was the driving force behind the move.

“This is an historic moment for the sport and a great step towards protecting the integrity, ethos and stature of international rugby,” Pichot said.

“These amendments will ensure that the international arena is full of players devoted to their nation, who got there on merit.”

World Rugby’s council meeting also voted to make players with 10 years of “cumulative residency” eligible to play for that country with immediate effect while countries will be prevented from capping players eligible to play for more than one national team at underage level in order to prevent them from playing for another nation.


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