Still 'plenty to do' after eligibility law change, advocate says

Source: 1News

One of the leading advocates for the now-approved eligibility law changes in global rugby says there's still "plenty to do" to get Pacific teams on par with the rest of the world.

Pacific Rugby Welfare CEO and former Samoa international Daniel Leo has spent the last three years pushing for World Rugby's eligibility laws to be changed to allow players to represent their cultural roots after their careers with their Tier 1 sides are over.

Leo and many others finally got their wish on Thursday morning with World Rugby announcing after an internal vote that players can change allegiances if they were born in the country they want to represent or have a parent or grandparent born there.

The change kicks in on January 1 2022 with any player meeting the criteria able to make an immediate transfer application, pending approval from World Rugby's regulations committee.

Leo told 1News he was still pinching himself that the law change had actually been approved.

"To get anything across the line when a 75 per cent threshold required for that, what we deemed as positive change, was quite daunting," Leo said.

"But we're there and it's really exciting, not just for Pacific Island rugby, but for the game as a whole."

Daniel Leo celebrates a try during a 2011 Rugby World Cup Test between Samoa and Fiji.

Leo said one of their biggest concerns heading into the vote was knowing of the 53 votes cast, just 12 against would result in a "dead duck".

"Particularly early on we had worries that perhaps Fiji might have voted against the ruling being the top Pacific Island team, and wanting to cement themselves there," he said.

"But thankfully that wasn't the case, the Pacific brotherhood stood strong, and not only that, rugby's values really shone through in terms of other nations that would have traditionally voted against this actually coming to the fore and putting what's right for the whole sport, as opposed to just looking out for their own self-interests."

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said the change recognises “the modern professional rugby environment without compromising the integrity of the international game", but Leo believes there's still more to do.

"[There's] still a lot of disparities," he said.

"The world council, the fact there's huge disparity in voting power there.

"The fact we've got Tier 2 nations playing Tier 1 opposition over there, and not getting any of the gate share, these are still huge issues that need to be addressed."

For now though, Leo is celebrating a big step forward for the game.

"I'm looking forward to never having to use the word eligibility again hopefully, I feel like it's all I've been tweeting about for the last two or three years.

"It's nice to have these little wins. You need them, because it's been a long and at times hard battle.

"But we celebrate the wins just like when you're playing - you celebrate the wins and take the losses on the chin and move forward."