One of Australia’s successful international imports has warned against proposed World Rugby changes to eligibility laws – saying it would disadvantage players looking to create better lives for their families.
It took the Fijian-born outside back Henry Speight nearly four years to qualify as an Australian player and he admits he wavered many times over whether he should stick with his goal to become a Wallaby.
The Brumbies star showed patience, however, and the result has been a Wallabies call-up, and five Test caps – including one at this year’s World Cup, against Uruguay, where he scored his maiden international try.
But had he been forced to wait a further two years after that, as has been suggested will become the norm, he would almost certainly have played his career for the Flying Fijians.
“Mine was almost a four-year wait and that was really testing patience and resilience wise,” he said.
“The relief that you get when they give you a final date and you can work towards it, everyone in my position looks forward to it.
“It’s exactly the same for those who have never lived in Australia but qualify for Australia through grandparents or something.
“If anything, that’s even harsher on those who come to Australia, live here and take an opportunity.
“Not just to advance their careers, but to have a better life for themselves and their families.
“The officials will have their say and those who are pushing to make it longer, and they have their reasons
“But at the end of the day it’s the players who suffer.
The idea that players born in one country, such as one of the island nations, will be encouraged to play for those nations might be viewed as a step forward for some.
But for Speight he found the opportunities in Australia irresistible because of the potential for growth with his family in a new country.
To have that possibility taken away, he says, would be a mistake for future generations of rugby players.
“It was definitely hard for me,” he said.
“The pull of potentially playing for Fiji was an option for me as well. It certainly tests your reasons.
“In my mind I was committed to Australian rugby and Australia as well, but there are times when you question it.”