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World Rugby's Regulation 8, which outlines player eligibility for the international game, has been changed via a World Rugby Council special meeting Wednesday in Kyoto, Japan. The most glaring change is the increase of time a player has to reside in a country before becoming eligible for its national team.
“This is an historic moment for the sport and a great step towards protecting the integrity, ethos and stature of international rugby," said World Rugby vice chairman Agustin Pichot in a release.
“National team representation is the reward for devoting your career, your rugby life, to your nation and these amendments will ensure that the international arena is full of players devoted to their nation, who got there on merit.”
Current Eagles like Shaun Davies (South Africa), AJ MacGinty and John Quill (both Ireland) became eligible for Team USA via Reg. 8.1 (c), living the United States for three consecutive years, never leaving the country for more than 30 days in a given year. The World Rugby Council, which includes the former chairman of USA Rugby's board of directors, Bob Latham, voted unanimously to extend the residency minimum to five years.
The extension of the residency requirement takes effect from Dec. 31, 2020, meaning The Eagles can continue to blood players after 36 months of consecutive residency until that point. World Rugby's announcement of the changes did not address the potential ramifications for those who may fit awkwardly into the change. Will MacGinty, who qualified via residence but hasn't actually lived in the United States in years, still be Eagle eligible? Is anyone who gets capped before Dec. 31, 2020 going to be grandfathered in?
The Eagles will be among the teams in the top two tiers who feel the biggest impact from this change.
Other changes include a new clause that allows for anyone who has accumulated 10 years, meaning non-consecutive, of residence in a country to represent its national team. That is effective as of Thursday.
As well, teams may no longer use their U20 sides to capture a player. This is effective Jan. 1, 2018. Under Reg. 8, a player who represents a country at the senior 15s level, the senior 7s level, or the level which the union deems its next senior fifteen-a-side national representative team (think USA Selects, Argentina A or the England Saxons) can no longer represent another country.
Under the old rules, a nation could count its U20 side as its next senior fifteen-a-side national representative team, effectively locking a player into that union for life. Now, a player can play for any U20 side in the world and still remain free to qualify for another country via parentage or residency.
There's also a new clause for 7s players that goes into effect July 1st. If someone plays for a national 7s team before turning 20, they are now free and clear to represent another nation for which they qualify, unless the competition they were blooded in is the Olympics or 7s World Cup. Once someone 20 or older plays for a national team, they are considered captured and therefore only eligible for that nation.
So, theoretically, if Don Pati were capped by Team USA on the 7s World Series before he turned 20, it would not preclude him from playing for Samoa, which he also qualifies for, at a later date. But since Pati is capped for the USA on the 7s World Series after turning 20, he is now stuck with the USA.