RUGBY Australia is working towards an Australia First policy with foreign players to be largely phased out of their Super Rugby sides.
The policy shift comes after RA opted to return to four Super Rugby sides by controversially cutting the Force last season.
Super Rugby’s expansion to include the Force in 2006 and the Rebels in 2011 saw an influx of foreign stars in a bid to make teams competitive and put bums on seats.
But a return to four Australian teams has created a shift in thinking with RA now looking to minimise imports and focus on retaining its own Wallabies eligible players.
“Going to four teams means we will work on the foreign talent eligibility because we feel that there’s limited (contracts available),” RA’s high performance manager Ben Whitaker told foxsports.com.au.
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“We don’t think that there’s as much need to bring in talent (from overseas) that can play and potentially influence whether you win Super or not because we can back our talent in four teams to do that.”
The Rebels currently have two high profile imports on their books in Japan No 8 Amanaki Mafi and former England lock Geoff Parling.
Jacques Potgieter, Danny Cipriani, Gareth Delve, Greg Somerville, Ayumu Goromaru, Adam Thomson and Tomas Cubelli are other recent examples.
The shift in thinking will increase Australia’s depth in key positions such as fly half.
Last season, three of the five clubs at times had non Wallabies eligible players starting at No 10 in former Springbok Peter Grant (Force) and New Zealanders Jackson Garden-Bachop (Rebels) and Wharenui Hawera (Brumbies).
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The shift in policy goes hand in hand with RA’s new and improved talent ID program, which will pay attention to succession planning and ensure there is a consistent stream of players coming through in key positions.
While RA won’t completely rule out foreign talent in Super Rugby, it will be their preference unless the player plans to complete the residency requirements and throw their lot in with the Wallabies.
Tongan born Taniela Tupou made his Wallabies debut last year while the Brumbies’ Fijian No 8 Isi Naisarani is a big part of Michael Cheika’s Rugby World Cup plans.
World Rugby last year increased the residency requirements for foreign born players from three to five years.
“The number — I won’t say it will be zero just yet because we’ve still got some work to do — but the number of ineligible foreign players is certainly dropping and that’s part of the strategy,” Whitaker said.
“But I wouldn’t rule it out altogether because we might end up in a competition where you can jag someone of note that can do a whole of things — support you winning footy games, support the development of the young player and thirdly maybe even grow commercial interests.
“We won’t say never now, but you can see what the strategy is now.
“The other category is developing foreign players, which right now aren’t eligible to play but they haven’t been capped by another nation.
“Naisarani’s a good example, Taniela Tupou — up until November last year — they’re considered developing foreign players.”
RA isn’t the only governing body to tweak its playing criteria.
In light of their dwindling success on the international stage, new France Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte is tightening the belt on foreign talent in the cashed up French Top 14.
Incredibly, 257 of 596 players in the Top 14 (43.12 per cent) are foreigners and clubs are currently only required to have 14 locals in their matchday squads.
That number will rise to 15 next year and 16 in 2020 with Laporte eventually wanting to cut the number of foreigners in matchday squads to just five.
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