Residency rule is ‘diluting’ rugby, says Luke Fitzgerald

The former Lions winger has criticised rugby’s residency policy for making the game too ‘diluted’.

Picture: Supplied.

LONDON - Former Lions winger Luke Fitzgerald has criticised rugby's residency policy for making the international game too "diluted", adding that his own country Ireland has used it to recruit too many foreign-born players.

The 29-year-old winger, who retired through injury before the start of the season, said he supported World Rugby's decision to review the current rules which allow players to be capped after three years of living in an adopted country.

Calls for the eligibility period to be increased to five years have been led by Agustin Pichot, the former Argentina scrum-half who is World Rugby vice-chairman, a view that Fitzgerald supports.

"I think he has a really good point. It really dilutes it for me - I mean what's the point? It's like a Barbarians side against Barbarians, why do that? I don't understand that."

Statistics from the 2016 Six Nations showed that players from 21 countries were taking part, although not all under the residency rule. Japan used the rule to field 10 foreign-born players at the 2015 World Cup.

Asked about the Irish Rugby Union (IRFU) policy of looking abroad to recruit players like New Zealander Jaryd Payne and South Africa's CJ Stander, both of whom have been capped in recent years, he said: "I think it's wrong... I deliberately have given a short answer, I think it's wrong".

Fitzgerald added that he felt the policy, which has also allowed the Irish provinces to recruit uncapped talent from New Zealand and South Africa, was denying some Irish-born players the chance to break into the national team.

"It's no reflection on those (foreign-born) guys, they're doing everything within the rules, and I'd like to see Irish guys in there. Are we not good enough to fill the spots? I don't know if there's a big enough gap between Irish guys and those guys to really justify it?

"You've come all the way up through the systems and then all of a sudden some guy comes in and is perceived to be better because he's from a different place and it's, 'Let's get this guy in'.

"I don't know if being born in a different part of the world makes you a better player. I think they're probably better than us, but if they're not making those international teams, why would we be taking them? Is that an admission we're not as good as them, I'm sure it is."

World Rugby has set up a working group to review the rule "in its totality in order to determine whether the current regulation is fit for purpose".

A decision is expected soon.