World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper said the three-year residency rule which has seen an increasing number of foreign-born players selected for national teams could be reviewed.
Currently, players can compete for a country other than the one they were born in through a family connection stretching back to a grandparent, or via a three-year residency period.
The issue was brought into sharp focus at this year’s Six Nations where a host of players represented adopted countries, having been lured overseas by hefty club salaries.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Gosper indicated the international game’s governing body was prepared to review the three-year rule for Test eligibility.
“I think obviously there is a concentration of club wealth in the northern hemisphere, there’s no question that the salaries are very high in France and in England and it’s very tempting for players to ply their trade in the northern hemisphere,” Gosper said.
He said it was up to southern hemisphere unions to find ways to ensure players stayed in their home countries, but admitted the residency rules may need to change given the growing flow of players moving overseas.
“In terms of the residency laws, this was looked at a few years ago and it was determined that the laws as they were seemed to be right for that particular time,” he said.
“I know that (World Rugby) president (Bernard) Lapasset has indicated that this may be something we need to look at again in the future, and look at whether the three-year residency is enough to ensure that integrity of the international game, so that may be something that may need to be looked at.”
Pressed on whether the sheer volume of players who have shifted countries, and their young age, had hastened the need for a review, Gosper said: “You want to preserve the specialness of the international game.
“Therefore while club sides are gathering all-stars from around the world, and top international players, I think there is a feeling that there has to be some steps taken to ensure that the profile of the national team has that integrity.
“So I think in the mind of president Lapasset, who’s suggested we do look at this, that would be something that we’re considering.”
Any change to the rule would have global implications with several top teams fielding players born abroad, particularly the Pacific islands.
It would also need to be voted on by the World Rugby council.
“It’s not just a simple decision. It would be the result of some work by a working group and then a vote and so on, and require quite strong support for any change to be made to the residency rules,” said Gosper.