4 May 2020

Sport: World Rugby Chair talks eligibility rules, Francis Kean

11:20 am on 4 May 2020

World Rugby Chair Sir Bill Beaumont wants to press on immediately with plans to review eligibility rules which could provide a long-awaited boost for Pacific Island nations.

The former England captain was elected to a second four-year term at the weekend after edging his deputy Agustin Pichot 28-23 in the first round of voting, including with the support of Fiji and Samoa.

World Rugby chair Sir Bill Beaumont.

World Rugby chair Sir Bill Beaumont. Photo: Photosport

Beaumont pledged in his manifesto to conduct a full governance review of World Rugby, including a possible shake-up of current eligibility rules, which largely restrict players to representing one nation at test level.

Sir Bill said he wanted that work to start straight away and believed his proposal would benefit Pacific Island nations and allow players, who might have played a sevens tournament or a handful of tests for a tier one nation, to be able to represent a second national team, provided they had a passport for that country.

Any changes to eligibility rules would require a two-thirds majority in the World Rugby Council and, while previous attempts have failed, Beaumont said he backed his ability to persuade voting members of his vision.

The 'Ikale Tahi ended their 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign on a winning note against the USA.

Former All Black Charles Piutau has said he would love to play for Tonga if rugby's eligibility rules were relaxed. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Pacific Rugby Players CEO, Aayden Clarke, said work around changing regulation eight had already begun with the governing body through the Pacific Island Working Group, which also includes representatives from the Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand and Australian Rugby Unions as well as World and Oceania Rugby.

"It's been talked about as a bit of a promise from both Bill and probably Gus, in terms of what the next period looks like, but we'd already begun that work as part of the Pacific Island Working Group and working with the three unions - Fiji Tonga and Samoa - about possible improvements in regulation eight, [with] ourselves as a players association probably leading from the front there a little bit in terms of what that proposal could look like in terms of going to council next."

The Pacific Working Group last met in August prior to the Rugby World Cup and Aayden Clarke said it provides an important link between Pacific Unions, the players and World Rugby.

"I know that that working group is critical in terms of [the] strategic future for what happens across the Pacific. It's a very good tool for making sure everyone's on the same page."

"So that next meeting in full looks like it will happen virtually and then we will just pick up where we were last time."

Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke.

Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Vinnie Wylie

Clarke said the re-election of Sir Bill Beaumont provides some clarity in a time of great uncertainty and means they can now continue the work they've started.

"So now that we've had this decision I guess it's just a signal for us that we can carry and the plans we had in place to try and pull that together."

"So nothing new on that front - it's obviously a subject close to our heart and one that we believe is important for the Pacific Islands, so we will carry on doing the work that we're doing behind the scenes on that one."

Clarke said while players associations' don't have a vote on the World Rugby Council, his organisation, which represents players from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, ensure they make their views and priorities known at the top table.

"We make it clear what's the priority for us, for the players of the Pacific. There were aspects of both campaigns there that we were really positive about and we will continue to push those and we're just looking for action now."

Melani Matavao playing for Manu Samoa at  the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Samoa, Fiji and Tonga each managed only one win during last year's Rugby World Cup. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Sir Bill Beaumont has also signaled his desire to revive plans for a Nations Cup involving the top half a dozen teams from northern and southern hemispheres.

Fiji and Japan had been poised to join the Southern grouping under the original proposal, which fell through after Six Nations teams would not agree to allow promotion and relegation to a second tier European competition.

Ben Volavola,  Dominiko Waqaniburotu and Leone Nakarawa will all start against Georgia.

Fiji would likely join any expanded Rugby Championship competition if the Nations Cup were to go ahead. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Beaumont acknowledged there was "a lot of hard work to do over the next four years" and said all parties needed to unite to ensure rugby can grow and become a more global sport.

"But now we've got to all pull together...it's really important we don't have any major issues - the north and the south - we have to pull together for the betterment of the game," he said.

World Rugby announced last month it was making available 75 million pounds to unions suffering financial distress as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

But Sir Bill said any drop in revenues would not be at the expense of women's rugby, which the governing body viewed as a major growth area, and said he would challenge the World Rugby Executive Committee to find the money required to establish new global women's competitions which form part of their long-term plan and have already been passed by the rugby and women's committees.

Francis Kean episode will form part of governance review

Meanwhile Sir Bill Beaumont defended World Rugby's role in the nomination and subsequent withdrawal of Francis Kean's bid for a seat on the governing body's all powerful Executive Committee.

Fiji Rugby Union Chair Francis Kean, World Rugby Chair Bill Beaumont and Samoa Rugby Union Chair and PM, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi

Francis Kean, Sir Bill Beaumont and Samoa PM Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi after Fiji and Samoa were awarded seats on the World Rugby Council. Photo: World Rugby

The Fiji Rugby Union Chairman's nomination was hastily withdrawn on 21 April, and his place on the World Rugby Council following allegations of homophobia published in the Sunday Times and a damning open letter to voting members by former Manu Samoa international Dan Leo.

The former Navy commander Kean, who was convicted of manslaughter in 2007, was also stood down from the World Rugby Council, with his seat taken by FRU CEO John O'Connor.

Beaumont said as soon World Rugby heard of the latest allegations they responded to them and Kean's nomination was withdrawn. An inquiry into the matter remains ongoing.

He also emphasised that Fiji's seat on the World Rugby Council is held by the Fiji Rugby Union and was never awarded to Kean himself.

When asked if World Rugby should introduce a fit and proper persons test for prospective nominees, Sir Bill said such matters will be dealt with in the forthcoming review into the governance of World Rugby, which will be chaired by British Olympic Association Chairman Sir Hugh Robertson.