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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.
“I’ve had my eye on him,” McKee said.
“At this point with our back-row, I’ve probably gone for more experience, especially with the Rugby World Cup qualification matches, against Tonga and Samoa to follow, I’ve gone with the more experienced team.
“Firstly, I want to secure the Rugby World Cup qualification and then look to blend some youth into the team looking towards 2019.
“He’s right on our radar, as he probably is on the Australian radar, but he’s still got to wait another year or so in Australia before he’s eligible for them.”
McKee acknowledged that it was a risk not to select Naisarani, but said that the player ultimately had to commit to Fiji if he wanted to play.
“He’s got to commit and say he wants to play for Fiji as well,” McKee said.
“He’s maybe hedging his bets a little bit as well.
“But he’s certainly someone who is pretty high on our radar who’s just outside our group at the moment.”
After a three-day training camp at home, Fiji will arrive in Melbourne on June 4 to prepare for their Test against the Wallabies on June 10.
It’s likely that the clash will be the last time the two meet before the 2019 World Cup, with the top-placed Oceania side to be grouped alongside Australia, Wales and Georgia, as well as the second-ranked Americas side, in Pool D.
The last time they clashed was in Cardiff at the 2015 World Cup, when the Wallabies were too strong in a 28-13 win.
And while the Wallabies are seven places higher than Fiji on the world rankings in third, McKee believes his counterpart Michael Cheika will and not use the Test as an experiment, particularly given Australia’s struggles in Super Rugby.
“I think there’s certainly some challenges for the Wallabies coaching staff to pull things together,” McKee said.
“I think that Cheik will go with the experienced players.
“I don’t think he’ll experiment too much, particularly in that first match so he’ll pick the players who have played well for him in the past and hope that they can get from their past experience in the Test.
“But across the board in Super Rugby in Australia this year, some of the players haven’t been showing great form and don’t seem to be playing with much confidence, so it’s going to be interesting.
“But how the Wallabies prepare and what they do is out of our control.
“I’m really focusing on communicating with our players and making sure that when they come into camp we really hit the ground running.”
Fiji training squad:
Leeroy Atalifo, Levani Botia, Tevita Cavubati, Naulia Dawai, Eroni Vasiteri, Vereniki Goneva, Sunia Koto, Campese Ma’afu, Manasa Saulo, Viliame Mata, Nikola Matawalu, Metuisela Talebula, Kini Murimurivalu, Sikeli Nabou, Nemani Naidoo, Nemani Nagusa, Timoci Nagusa, Leone Kakaraya, Patrick Osborne, Kaposi Era, Appi Ratuniyarawa, Peni Ravai, Jale Sassen, Henry Seniloli, Tuapati Talemaitoga, Kalivati Tawake, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Josua Tuisova, Jale Vatubua, Joeli Veitayaki, Mosese Voka, Ben Volavola, Serupepeli Vularika, Albert Vulivuli, Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Peceli Yato.
SOURCE: FOX SPORTS/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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