Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is adamant granting early releases to forwards Liam Gill and Greg Holmes to play in Europe won’t set a precedent for other players to leave before their contracts expire.
Prop Holmes and his Reds teammate and flanker Gill were released with immediate effect by the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) to take up contracts at Exeter in England and Toulon in France respectively.
Holmes, 33, has played 27 Tests, appearing in all three matches of the recent series against England.
With David Pocock and Michael Hooper in his way, 24-year-old Gill has made all 15 of his Test appearances off the bench, the last in 2013.
ARU contracts only allow for those who have provided seven years of consecutive service to be granted an early release after the third Bledisloe Cup match of the year which, in 2016, is on October 22 in Auckland.
Both players would have been required to participate in the NRC and Wallabies preparations.
Cheika had wanted Holmes and Gill in his Rugby Championship squad, but said the ARU had played the role of nice guys in releasing them early and recognised the awkward situation they had been placed in by their management of committing to two contracts.
“We could play hard ball but where’s the bonus for me to cost Liam Gill his contract if he really wants to go that much and he doesn’t want to play for Australia?” Cheika said.
“These (releases) have been made on compassionate grounds because I know the guys have been put in awkward situations by their management because they haven’t been told the truths of the matter.”
Cheika made it clear the releases made on Saturday were exceptions to the normal rule and wouldn’t be repeated.
“The rules of the current collective bargaining agreement are going to be upheld from this day on, because maybe the agents haven’t taken the ARU seriously,” Cheika said.
“One of these agents is saying if it doesn’t happen, then he’s going to go legal action against us. Like, really?
“I’m not sure where they think they come off doing that.”
The Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) said it was pleased the ARU had confirmed the early releases.
Three other players had already been granted early releases to go overseas, albeit in different circumstances.
Cheika said back-rower Dave Dennis and back Mike Harris were not required for his Rugby Championship squad and winger Joe Tomane would not return from injury in time to play a part in the tournament.