ARU eases Wallabies eligibility rules

Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell and George Smith can return to play for the Wallabies at the World Cup after the Australian Rugby Union produced a backflip on its eligibility rules.

ARU chief executive Bill Pulver has announced a change to allow a few, much-capped players based offshore to be selected for Australia.

All overseas-based players were previously ineligible for the Wallabies.

But those who have earned 60 Test caps and have held a contract with Australian Rugby for at least seven years can now be selected.

Toulon-based Giteau, the reigning European player of the year, and his Heineken Cup-winning teammate Mitchell and champion flanker Smith, currently also in France, are the biggest winners from the shift in policy.

Looking beyond the World Cup, a swag of other stars heading overseas, including Adam Ashley-Cooper, Will Genia and 2011 World Cup captain James Horwill if he plays two Tests this year, will be available for selection.

Despite calling France home for the past four years, Giteau retains a burning desire to play in the World Cup after being bitterly disappointed to have been controversially overlooked by former coach Robbie Deans for the 2011 global showpiece.

Only on Monday, the 32-year-old, 92-Test playmaker told The Times in London the ARU needed to change the rules and he’d cherish a return to the Wallabies.

“I miss the big games, the big atmospheres, but the rules are there for a reason,” Giteau said.

“They need changing, but if it was something the coaches were interested in, then I’d love to play for my country again.”

The policy change was approved by the ARU board and endorsed by the Australian Super Rugby franchise CEOs this week.

“Its a decision that recognises the changing dynamics of a global Rugby market for professional players,” said Pulver.

“Combined with our other recruitment and retention strategies, we feel this decision allows the ARU to assert more influence over player movement and contracting in Australia and abroad.

“Those players who satisfy the 60-game and seven-year threshold have already invested heavily and contributed considerably to Australian Rugby over a long period of time.

“The policy also encourages those players who have not yet reached that point to commit exclusively to Australian Rugby in the prime of their career.

“In this way, we believe the policy supports Super Rugby by encouraging our top players to remain in Australia for longer.

“It also means we can invest more money into our younger players in the long-term, while ensuring our most experienced players leaving for overseas can still contribute to the overall success of the code in Australia on and off the field.”

Under the revised ARU policy, players returning to Australia from overseas who make a two-year commitment to an Australian Super Rugby Club will also be eligible to represent the Wallabies immediately upon their return.

Pulver said the ARU believed having the option to select overseas-based players to represent the Wallabies would encourage the repatriation of Australians currently playing in foreign competitions.

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