The ARU isn’t ruling out further tinkering of its Wallabies selection policy as it looks to fend off cashed-up European and Japanese clubs pilfering Australia’s blue-chip rugby stocks.
The governing body’s decision to allow an elite few overseas-based players to be eligible for the national side has been welcomed by coach Michael Cheika and former greats including 2007 World Cup captain Stirling Mortlock.
“It’s fantastic news, not just looking at the World Cup (this year) but also for the future,” Mortlock told AAP.
France-based trio Matt Giteau, the reigning player of the year in the Top 14 competition, Drew Mitchell and George Smith are all now eligible for the World Cup because they meet the strict criteria of having played at least 60 Tests and also held contracts with the ARU for seven seasons or more.
Giteau and Mitchell both welcomed the landmark shift in policy on Twitter on Wednesday night while also acknowledging that form remained the No.1 requisite for Wallabies selection.
But while Giteau, Mitchell and Smith have all been recognised for their loyalty, a cluster of big-name players fall just short of the 60-Test mark, including former captains Will Genia and James Horwill.
Both Genia and Horwill need to play two Tests this year to be eligible for long-service dispensation before heading offshore at the end of 2015.
Both stars have also suffered the misfortune of being denied certain caps while being struck down with long-term injuries while at the peak of their powers.
“I understand that but clearly we’ve implemented this policy for good reason,” said ARU boss Bill Pulver.
“Given the complexity of the policy around eligibility for selection, I don’t really want to suggest that this is the end of the thought process.
“We take the issue very seriously of talent in Australia moving offshore and we’ll continue to look at opportunities to refine our policies to deliver the outcomes we want.”
Pulver said the number of Tests players needed to have reached to be eligible for Wallabies selection while plying their trade overseas was deliberately high.
“Because when you look at a player like Adam Ashley-Cooper, no one can question the commitment and dedication he’s given to Australian rugby,” he said of the France-bound 104-Test stalwart.
“So a guy like that absolutely deserves to be considered for Wallabies eligibility going forward.
“But the other part of the policy is it provides real incentive for younger elite players to stay in Australia longer in order to meet that threshold to be eligible.”
ACTIVE AUSTRALIAN PLAYERS WITH MORE THAN 60 TEST CAPS:
George Smith (Lyon) – 111
Adam Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs bound for Bordeaux) – 104
Matt Giteau (Toulon) – 92
Stephen Moore (Brumbies) – 92
Ben Alexander (Brumbies and off contract) – 72
Benn Robinson (NSW Waratahs) – 72
Drew Mitchell (Toulon) – 63
*James Slipper (Queensland Reds and off contract) – 63
OVERSEAS-BOUND AUSTRALIAN PLAYERS WHO COULD PASS 60 TESTS IN 2015:
Will Genia (Queensland Reds bound for Stade Francais) – 58
James Horwill (Queensland Reds bound for London Harlequins) – 58
Wycliff Palu (NSW Waratahs bound for Japan) – 54
Quade Cooper (Queensland Reds reportedly bound for Toulon) – 53
Sekope Kepu (NSW Waratahs bound for Bordeaux) – 52
AUSTRALIA-BASED PLAYERS WHO COULD PASS 60 TESTS IN 2015:
Tatafu Polota-Nau (NSW Waratahs) – 50
Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds and off contract) – 50
Kurtley Beale (NSW Waratahs and off contract) – 49
*denotes needs to play in Australia in 2016 to meet criteria of having held a contract in Australian rugby for seven seasons after debuting for the Reds and Wallabies in 2010.