Scotland’s reliance on the residency rule not about to end just yet

A quick scan of the new Scotland squad reveals a diverse bunch.

Wednesday, 14th October 2020, 7:00 am
Edinburgh's Duhan van der Merwe has been named in the new Scotland squad. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Edinburgh's Duhan van der Merwe has been named in the new Scotland squad. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Of the 40 players named by Gregor Townsend for the autumn internationals, 23 were born in this country.

Five are from New Zealand and qualify via a Scottish parent or grandparent. Aussie Nick Haining is also eligible through a Scottish granny.

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Six were born in England but have Scottish ancestry or grew up here.

Glasgow's Oli Kebble is now Scottish qualified and is set to feature in the autumn internationals. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

A further five qualify on residency grounds, perhaps the most contentious of the criteria used to determine a player’s eligibility. So contentious in fact that the rules are to be tightened up.

Two of the three new boys in the squad qualify this way. Duhan van der Merwe and Oli Kebble, two South Africans who have done good things for Edinburgh and Glasgow, are in line to win their first caps during a busy autumn schedule which will see Scotland play six Test matches.

Having lived in this country for 36 consecutive months, the pair fulfil the residency qualification.

They are likely to be joined in the squad in November by compatriot Jaco van der Walt, the Edinburgh stand-off who will reach the three-year mark in Scotland next month.

It’s a well worn path, swapping the Highveld for the Highlands. Of the current squad, Cornell du Preez and WP Nel have followed this route to international rugby and the Scottish Rugby Union has not been slow to exploit the rules, looking to South Africa to fill problem positions when native talent is lacking.

Other nations have done similar and some would say Townsend would be foolish not to take advantage of the rules. But is it diminishing the international game?

Townsend would argue his squad reflects the cosmopolitan nature of modern society.

“We’ve got a mix of people,” he said when challenged about the number of South Africans in his selection. “People that were brought up in Scotland, people who were brought up in England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. It’s a diverse group and they’re all very keen to wear that thistle and play for their country.”

Glasgow’s Australian centre Sam Johnson also qualifies on residency grounds, meaning one in eight of the squad can play for Scotland by dint of the fact they have lived here for three years.

A bit flimsy? World Rugby thinks so, hence the modifications to Regulation 8, which governs players’ international eligibility.

The original intention was that the rule would change on 31 December 2020 when the residency qualification was to be increased from three years to five.

However, because of the coronavirus pandemic World Rugby has extended the three-year residency period window until the last day of 2021, arguing that some eligible players have been prevented from representing their adopted country by the scheduled cut-off date due to the cancellation of matches or other complications caused by the virus.

So what does this mean for Scotland’s recruitment? Most immediately, it opens the door for another South African, Pierre Schoeman, to qualify for Scotland next summer when the Edinburgh prop thought he would have to wait until 2023.

In the longer term, you would hope that extending the qualifying period to five years would lead to more emphasis on developing homegrown players and widening the pool of native talent.

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