FIJI coach John McKee says World Rugby’s decision to extend the international residency period from three to five years for foreign players will result in a “fairer” playing field.
Currently, a foreign player only has to live in a country for 36 consecutive months to be eligible to then represent their adopted country at Test level.
As a consequence many countries, particularly from the Pacific Islands, lost home-grown talent to richer European markets and Australia, New Zealand and Japan — who could dangle lucrative contracts in front of those players.
But last week’s announcement means that from 2020 on, foreign players will have to wait five consecutive years to become eligible to play international rugby for their adopted country.
The decision is designed to encourage players to play for their country of origin.
“Certainly it was the Fiji Rugby Union’s policy to support that move,” McKee told foxsports.com.au.
“And for me personally, too, in the professional era of the game, when players move for contracts, three years is quite a short timeline to show that you’re committed to another country.
“Look, I would think that if someone wants to wait five years then fair juice, but I think also with three years I think some countries can warehouse players.
“I think five years is a much fairer time frame.”
The Pacific Islands have certainly been one of the regions hardest hit by the loss in player talent.
But McKee said countries like Fiji weren’t the only ones that stood to benefit by increasing the residency period.
“It’s not just Pacific islanders,” McKee said.
“In the northern hemisphere there are South Africans and New Zealanders, and maybe even some Australians, who play for other countries.”
Indeed, Sale’s 23-year-old winger, Denny Solomona, who hails from New Zealand but played for Samoa in rugby league, has just been selected by Eddie Jones for England’s two-match Test series against Argentina in June, after recently reaching the three-year residency target.
One player bound to come up for discussion on this topic is the Force’s back-row sensation, Isi Naisarani.
The 22-year-old has only been in Australia for a year since moving over from Fiji, but has turned heads since bursting onto the scene with Souths in the Brisbane club competition.
Naisarani was a breakout star in last year’s NRC where he was the most destructive player in the competition.
The Force quickly offered him a contract, and Naisarani has continued to make every post a winner.
In an interview with foxsports.com.au last month, Force coach Dave Wessels described Naisarani as an “unsung hero” throughout the first half of the Super Rugby season and a player with a “very bright future ahead.”
Next month Fiji will play the Wallabies in Melbourne before Tests against Scotland and Italy at home, and McKee said Naisarani was on his radar despite not being picked.