Rugby residency rules leave Scarlets boss uneasy

Scarlets boss Wayne Pivac has coached in his native New Zealand, Fiji, and now Wales and seen all sides of the argument when it comes to the rights and wrongs of rugby’s residency rules.

Pivac has signed Pacific Islanders to ITM Cup teams, including Tongan-born All Black centre Malakai Fekitoa, seen them leave the islands in search of financial security and signed Kiwis chasing international status overseas, bringing Johnny McNicholl to West Wales, because there is simply no path to Test rugby with the All Blacks.

Which is why World Rugby’s decision this week to extend qualification for international eligibility on grounds of residency from three years to five is not as clear-cut as it may seem.

Speaking last Sunday, ahead of the World Rugby vote in Japan, and essentially to discuss Scarlets’ Pro12 semi-final at Leinster next Friday night in Dublin, Pivac was asked for his thoughts on uncapped New Zealander James Lowe’s impending move from the Blues to Leinster and also about Irish-qualified project players Jared Payne and CJ Stander representing the Lions this summer

“Yeah, it’s in the rules,” Pivac said of the latter, the silence that followed the former Fiji and Auckland head coach’s terse response speaking volumes.

He acknowledged that the All Blacks squad regularly contains players born on the islands, saying: “There are. The ones that are born in New Zealand I have no problem with... yeah, it’s interesting.

“It’s the current rules. You look at Australia, South Africa now, there’s a Fijian playing in just about every international side in the world on the wing.

“When you’ve lived in the islands and you see, outside of the resorts, pretty much third world... my experience of coaching and living for three years in the islands, if you get a young fella who’s got the opportunity to make a living and support his whole family back home on one rugby contract then, under the rules, you’ve got to do it.

“For the Pacific Island boys, to me, it’s a little different to a New Zealander who’s living comfortably in New Zealand and doing very well for himself and coming out to Ireland or Wales. I think it’s a little bit different when you go and see the environment they’ve come from and what that change can do for them.

“Malakai Fekitoa, I got him straight out of school and to see, he was living in his car at the time, you know, out of his car and he’s now a well, well-paid player. If he came up to the northern hemisphere he’d be on huge money. He supports 15 people back on the island, you know, brothers and sisters, it’s a massive family, so that opportunity, I understand why they would do it.

“So I think there’s a slight difference but there is a huge debate.”

Pivac believes it is too easy to make judgments on players’ decision-making processes when deciding to leave their homeland.

“You’ve pretty much got 95% of the money in the islands with 5% of the population.

“When you see the sort of money those Test players are on, the guys living in Fiji, 50 Fijian dollars a day (€22) to be in camp, it’s a pittance. Yet they’re asked to play against Ireland and Wales and these other sides. So it’s not a level playing field in terms of finance, for the players.

“When you get an opportunity to play in the northern hemisphere, you know, they’re mad if they don’t.”

  • Ronan O’Gara’s column will return next week.


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