RWC 2019: James O’Connor and Nic White in Wallabies squad
Michael Cheika selects overseas duo with backrow David Pocock heading to Japan
The Wallabies Rugby World Cup squad. Photograph: Nick Mulvenney/Reuters
Rugby Australia is willing to bet the farm on the Wallabies winning the World Cup in Japan.
The 31-man World Cup squad announced on Friday includes two players – utility back James O’Connor and halfback Nic White – who were eligible under the so-called Giteau Law.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika devised the policy in 2015 to allow overseas-based players to be eligible to play for the Wallabies. He brought back Matt Giteau, for whom the law was named, and Drew Mitchell back from France for the World Cup that year.
Previously, players had to play for Super Rugby clubs in Australia to be eligible to play for the Wallabies, but the Giteau Law created a whole new pool of offshore talent by relaxing the eligibility rules.
Under it, overseas players who have played 60 Tests or commit to an Australian Super Rugby team for two years after the World Cup qualify for selection.
O’Connor (Sale Sharks) and White (Exeter) were specifically targeted for the Wallabies World Cup squad. Two players may not sound like a lot, but it is worth remembering that Cheika was involved in unsuccessful, last-minute negotiations to bring second-rower Will Skelton back from English club Saracens, while veteran hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau (Leicester) was also under serious consideration.
Another World Cup squad member Matt Toomua became eligible by returning from England to play for the Melbourne Rebels this year, but he only played five Super Rugby games towards the end of the season. In the past Toomua would have to have started the Super Rugby season to be eligible, but that rule was also watered down somewhere along the line.
So there could easily have been up to four or five overseas based players in the Wallabies’ squad for the tournament in Japan.
Cheika cannot be blamed for assembling the strongest squad possible, including players from home and abroad, to give the team its best chance of winning the World Cup, but Australian rugby faces potentially serious consequences, unintended or not, as a result of the loosening of the eligibility rules.
There was a good reason overseas players were excluded from the Wallabies prior to the introduction of the Giteau Law – to protect Super Rugby.
The number of players selected for the Wallabies under the Giteau Law is not really the main concern – it is more the growing number of players leaving Australia after the World Cup and that the Giteau Law is inadvertently contributing to the exodus that is the issue.
The Giteau Law encourages players to leave Australia because they can make big bucks overseas and be comforted by the knowledge they can still play in the World Cup if they are required.
There is almost a first XV of Test players departing Australia – Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Quade Cooper, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, Sekope Kepu, Samu Kerevi, Christian Lealiifano, Nick Phipps, David Pocock and Curtis Rona – which will have a negative impact on the standard of the nation’s domestic teams.
In some cases players will still be eligible to play for the Wallabies, but Coleman (29 Tests) and Kerevi (23 Tests) will be ineligible, and they are in the prime of their careers. That is a big concern.
Coleman, 27, and Kerevi, 25, are young enough to play in the 2023 World Cup in France. This means they could play overseas for the next four years and sign to play with a Super Rugby team after 2023 to become eligible. Good for the Wallabies, not so good for Super Rugby.
You could argue that in a World Cup year the only thing that matters is the winning the Webb Ellis Cup. Forget about Super Rugby. But that’s the problem, too many people are forgetting about it.
Former Wallabies centre Tim Horan has called for RA to abolish restrictions on overseas-based players altogether in World Cup years, but if that were to happen the bottom would fall out of Super Rugby.
It may do anyway. In effect, the current eligibility rules are close to open slather. With the exception of Skelton, and possibly Japan-based back-rower Sean McMahon, Cheika has got all of the overseas players he wanted.
It is a clear signal to players that they no longer need play in Super Rugby to be eligible for the Wallabies at the World Cup and will encourage more to go offshore, further weakening an already fragile Super Rugby scene.
Sure, the domestic competition would benefit by players committing to Australian rugby for two years after the World Cup, but in many cases those players will be past their prime, coming home to collect a superannuation contract.
Of course, the Wallabies are the most important team in Australian rugby and the World Cup is the ultimate objective. Success at the World Cup would have a positive effect on Super Rugby, but do we really need to destroy the village in order to save it?
There is no doubt the Wallabies squad is stronger with O’Connor, White and Toomua in it and may have been even more so with Skelton as well, but is it really that much stronger? Strong enough to make a difference? We will see.
There were few, if any, real surprises in what was a fairly solid-looking squad, the only notable omission Brumbies fullback Tom Banks, and gambling on the fitness of David Pocock.
Cheika got almost all of the players he wanted from home and abroad. The Wallabies will now need to win the World Cup, or go close, to justify any potential damage to Super Rugby as a result of the relaxing of the eligibility rules. - Guardian
Australia RWC 2019 squad
Backs: Kurtley Beale, Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Marika Koroibete, Jordan Petaia, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, James O’Connor, Samu Kerevi, Matt Toomua, Christian Lealiifano, Bernard Foley, Nic White, Will Genia. Forwards: Isi Naisarani, Jack Dempsey, Michael Hooper (captain), David Pocock, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Adam Coleman, Rob Simmons, Allan Alaalatoa, Taniela Tupou, Sekope Kepu, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Tolu Latu, Folau Fainga’a, Jordan Uelese.