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In the wake of a story published in The Independent in the UK, the International Rugby Board today released a statement reiterating its commitment to making sure players are released by their clubs for international duty as per their Regulation 9.

In the statement, the IRB said: “Player release is central to the integrity and economic sustainability of the international Game and the IRB continues to be proactively committed to assisting Unions with player release issues when requested by them to do so under Regulation 9.

The Regulation is designed to deliver a fair, equitable and proportionate framework for facilitating the release of the world's best players for international duty within designated windows without impediment irrespective of country of employment. This Regulation goes to the very core of supporting the integrity of the international Game.

The IRB takes any breach of the Regulation very seriously and acts on release issues where it is formally requested to do so by a Union or if it is presented with credible evidence provided by a Union or recognised Rugby body that would allow it to pursue its own enquiry. In respect of the former, the IRB has collaborated with Unions over a long period to successfully facilitate the release of players for international duty and will continue to do so.

Unions also have a clear obligation to do everything possible to uphold the Regulation within their territory or they risk significant sanctions.

The IRB is currently monitoring player release issues during the November 2012 window and the matter will be the subject of discussion at the IRB November 2012 meetings in Dublin.”

This is all in response to The Independent’s story saying the 2015 World Cup is vulnerable to some players, especially from Tier II nations, being held back for their clubs by a combination of special contract clauses, coercion, and financial incentives.

Former USA Head Coach Eddie O’Sullivan was quoted in the article – an old quote referring to Samu Manoa missing the 2011 World Cup due to his Northampton Saints contract.

O’Sullivan was understandably unhappy with Manoa not being available, but in that instance it wasn’t a case of Northampton preventing Manoa from playing – it was that Manoa had a significant financial incentive to stay with his new club just as he was starting out.

Asked about this article, USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville told that “we have not seen [Manoa’s] contract and there is no way Northampton would breach Reg 9 in their contracts - the penalties are significant. The pressure comes when the club puts pressure on the player; this is where Regulation 9 becomes hard to implement.”

Sometimes clubs get around all the player release issue by persuading a player to retire from international rugby, which, said Melville, “is not something we want.” 

In the end, because the professional rugby season is so long, and has to be because clubs don’t make massive profits on games and therefore need to play 40 or more games to make it all pay, clubs often have to play during international windows.

But then they see some of their best players unavailable because their national team has called that player up. So they look for ways to keep players in their club jerseys. (See here)

“In short, Reg 9 isn't working for everyone, usually Tier II [nations],” said Melville.”

What might help with this issue is the development of a player’s association with some real teeth – one that has a platform covering how many games should be players over a 12-month period, and how long down time should be. There are moves in the USA for a player’s association, but that won’t address the international question.

“The IRB needs to take the lead on bringing unions, clubs, player associations together to work together a new more workable arrangement,” said Melville.