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A trio of former international rugby stars have called on Rugby Australia to blow up its selection rules ahead of next year’s World Cup by opening the door for unlimited local players to ply their trade overseas and be allowed to come back for Wallabies duty.
Former Wallabies greats Mat Rogers and Drew Mitchell, as well as All Blacks World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams, believe the Wallabies are being crippled by rules, enforced by RA, that only allow three overseas-based players to return for international matches.
The Wallabies are expected to name a spring tour squad on Sunday for five upcoming Tests in Europe against Scotland, France, Italy, Ireland and Wales.
Five-eighth Bernard Foley (Japan) and Will Skelton (France) are tipped to take up two of the three spots allowed by RA. Skelton, one of the best second-rowers in the world, was overlooked for Australia’s series against England this year because coach Dave Rennie already had three overseas picks.
With Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete and Rory Arnold all unavailable for the upcoming tour due to injury and pre-arranged deals with their Japanese clubs, it is less of a headache for the Wallabies in the near future. Australia may, however, call up European-based players into the squad if injuries occur.
But if the ‘Giteau Law’ – as it was dubbed in 2015 – is still in place for next year’s World Cup, there is a view that the Wallabies, who have slumped to ninth in the world, their lowest ever ranking, are only shooting themselves in the foot.
Will Skelton was overlooked for Australia’s series against England as Dave Rennie already had three overseas picks.Credit:Getty
Letting players go offshore would certainly diminish the quality of Super Rugby Pacific but Rogers and Mitchell believe now is the time to pull the trigger. The Wallabies have lost nine of their past 12 Test matches, including the Bledisloe Cup for a 20th straight year.
“Someone has to make the hard decision … we’ve got to be realists,” said Rogers, a dual international who played in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final.
“When they make that decision, Australian rugby becomes like Australian soccer. That’s probably the only way I can see us creating these battle-hardened players that are ready to compete at a high level week in, week out. If you don’t do that, I don’t think it’s fair to expect the players to be at a level where they can compete on that [international] stage.
“It’s robbing the players the ability to develop. Imagine how bad the Socceroos would be if we made players stay in Australia. It’d be awful. We need to make some concessions because the results over the last 20 years are fairly comprehensive.”
Mat Rogers celebrates Australia’s Bledisloe Cup win in Sydney in 2002.Credit:Penny Bradfield
Mitchell, who benefitted from the rule in 2015 when he and Matt Giteau returned for the 2015 World Cup, is firm in his view that the law should be abolished before the tournament in France next year.
“I hope they’re smart about it,” Mitchell said. “It’s a World Cup. We’re in a competitive market. We need the game to thrive. Why would we cut ourselves off at the ankles?
“I’m not talking about 15 players from overseas. You look at our pack. If we had Will Skelton somewhere in there every Test … he’s a bully and a different beast. Pick who you think is going to give you the best chance of winning the World Cup.
“I can’t imagine being a Wallabies coach and knowing that you’re not going into the World Cup having the squad you wanted because your own board is putting limitations on you.”
Drew Mitchell (right) with James Slipper (left) at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Credit:Laurence Griffiths
Mitchell said that rugby’s “global” appeal needed to be utilised.
“Every one of our coaching staff are picked from overseas and yet we’re not allowed to pick players from overseas? Come on,” Mitchell said. “The one thing I can’t get my head around with rugby here in Australia is we always champion that our game is a global game but we don’t really embrace the global part of it. We need to win. The game needs to win. We need to be competitive.”
Sonny Bill Williams is also in agreement. He points out South Africa were still able to cut the cord and win a World Cup in 2019 despite their best players featuring overseas.
“They’re world champions because they don’t stand in the way of their players, they pick them from wherever they play,” Williams said. “They let their players earn their money and they don’t discriminate when they represent their country. They pick the best possible team they can.”
Rennie and his coaching staff will meet on Saturday before unveiling a squad for Australia’s second northern hemisphere trip in as many years. The team did not tour Europe in 2019 or 2020.
Selectors will also be keeping a close eye on the final Australia A match on Saturday in Japan.
Watch Japan XV v Australia A streaming ad-free, live and on demand on Friday from 8.30pm AEDT on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport.
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