IRB moves to close Sevens registration loophole

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The IRB are working to close a loophole which would have allowed players that had already represented a nation to play for a different country at the Rugby World Cup next year.

The loophole was opened as a result of rugby becoming an Olympic sport in 2016. It says that a player can swap allegiances to another country for which they hold a passport and play for them at sevens, in the Olympics and beyond, provided they have not played for their initial country in the last 18 months.

Under IRB rules, however, this would also make them eligible for the 15-a-side game, and it was understood that many players were looking at the possiblity of switching allegiances in time for the World Cup in England in 2015.

Players such as England’s Steffon Armitage, who would be eligible for France, and Steve Mafi, who could represent Australia, have reportedly considered the switch in time for next year. Isaia Toeava, who won a World Cup with New Zealand, and Montepellier’s Alex Tulou have also been mentioned as players thinking of switching allegiances.

IRB chief executive Brett Gosper, however, has moved to dispel these rumours by claiming that every application will be carefully considered by a committee, to ensure that they are not merely excuses to become eligible for the XVs game.

“There is a regulations committee that will look at all applications for transfer and they will look to see if it’s for bona fide Sevens reasons,” Gosper told the Press Association. “There is a safety net and any transfer will have to be passed by the committee. They will act according to the spirit of the law.

“For example, if we have huge props applying for a career in sevens, then we’ll smell a rat. That’s an obvious example and there will be some cases that are in a grey area, but we want to ensure the integrity of the regulation and the spirit behind it is upheld.

“Any obvious abuses that go counter to that spirit of why we’re doing this will be caught in the regulations committee net. But players will move in both codes by coming into the sevens game – that will happen.”

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images