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The impact of Giteau Law on Super Rugby

Former All Blacks star Sir John Kirwan has issued a warning that the removal of the Giteau Law could be detrimental to the future of Super Rugby.


Further amendments to the rule have been added to enable Rennie to pick two extra players who don’t meet those criteria.

There are three overseas-based players in the current Wallabies squad, two of whom – Samu Kerevi of Tokyo Sungoliath and Duncan Paia’aua of Toulon – don’t meet the Giteau Law criteria.

The third foreign-based player, Quade Cooper of the Hanazono Kintetsu Liners, has 70 test caps and played professionally in Australia between 2006 and 2019.

Calls for a review of the Giteau Law came after the Wallabies failed to win the Bledisloe Cup for a 19th straight year earlier this month as they were defeated in back-to-back tests by the All Blacks at Eden Park.

Since RA chief executive Andy Marinos confirmed last week that the national union was contemplating a relaxation of its eligibility laws, numerous former Wallabies have been left divided over whether such a move would be beneficial for Australian rugby.

Ex-All Blacks midfielder Sonny Bill Williams has also chimed in on the matter as he called for RA to scrap the ruling and reinvest the money it spends on its top players into schoolboy rugby across Australia.


Now Kirwan, another former New Zealand international, has voiced his opinion on the debate, but his views are of stark contrast to those held by Williams.

Speaking on The Breakdown on Monday, the 56-year-old said scrapping the Giteau Law altogether would negatively impact the future of Super Rugby.

The southern hemisphere’s premier club competition is undergoing a significant upheaval after the advent of Covid-19 forced the relocation of the South African franchises – the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers – to Europe.

The pandemic also resulted in the axing of the Jaguares and Sunwolves, leaving Super Rugby to become a Pacific-focused competition rather than a hemisphere-wide tournament.


Many have viewed the revamp of the competition as a golden opportunity to revive the floundering league, which has suffered from various problems over the past decade.

Those included, but weren’t limited to, administrative mismanagement, lop-sided results, ongoing and complex format restructures, matches played across multiple different timezones, player welfare issues and a sharp decline in fan interest.

Therefore, the chance to hit the re-set button and welcome two Pacific Island teams – Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua – to join the 10 teams from New Zealand and Australia has been lauded as a positive step towards rejuvenating Super Rugby.

According to Kirwan, though, any optimism surrounding the future of the competition could be quickly swept away if the Giteau Law is revoked to allow Rennie to pick players from anywhere in the world.

The former 63-test wing questioned whether doing so would “weaken the Australian sides” while drawing comparisons between the Giteau Law and New Zealand Rugby’s [NZR’s] stance on player sabbaticals.

“I am really, really concerned about Super Rugby as a by-product of letting players play overseas,” Kirwan told The Breakdown.

“You need to understand what the Giteau Law is. For example, we’ve got players going overseas and I think we’re now breaking into what does that mean for us?

“I call them financial sabbaticals. [Sam] Whitelock, [Brodie] Retallick, [Beauden] Barrett went on one, and yet TJ Perenara was a little bit different because [he came back to play for the All Blacks despite initially being ineligible to do so].

“Patrick Tuipulotu is going on one. You sign with NZR and, because we’re trying to compete with European money, you go on a financial sabbatical, which gives New Zealand Rugby your services for a few more years.

“I think this Giteau Law is a little bit different where you play, like the South Africans do, completely overseas, and I think that would be horrendous for us as a nation, but also horrible for Super Rugby.

“I’m really concerned that Super Rugby is going to end up like our [NPC] or our club rugby because people want to see the superstars. They want to see Beauden Barrett playing Patrick Tuipulotu, so that’s dangerous, I believe.”

Kirwan added he would like to see Super Rugby tap into lucrative markets such as Japan and the United States, as well as the Pacific, to help prevent New Zealand and Australia from competing with the riches on offer in Europe.

“I think our challenge is we’ve got to stop following the market and start leading it,” the 1987 World Cup winner said.

“I believe we need to bring the Japanese into Super Rugby, we need to bring in the [west coast] of the America into Super Rugby, we need to bring Pasifika into Super Rugby.

“The LA side [LA Giltinis] has just won their competition [Major League Rugby] over there. There will be money going in there. We know there’s a lot of money in Japan, so I believe if they can stay in our basin, you should be allowed to pick them.

“Then you don’t sacrifice Super Rugby for the sake of us losing everyone … Why are we following the market? We’ve go to lead the market and try and help these guys.

“I understand that they need to make as much money as they can, but let’s create an amazing Asian base. Let’s invest and put a franchise in Beijing or something.

“Be a bit proactive and players can go over there, make more money, but also we can pick New Zealanders from that competition.

“If you are playing for the Sunwolves and you come down to New Zealand and you’re competitive with Canterbury or the Blues or whatever, and you can show enough form to get picked, let’s do that.

“We’re continuing to follow where the game is taking us instead of trying to lead it.”

Kirwan’s comments come after the Australian Super Rugby teams endured a horror showing in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman earlier this year as they picked up just two wins from 25 matches against their New Zealand counterparts.

The makeshift campaign highlighted the gulf in class between the two nations, and ex-All Blacks utility back Mils Muliaina said further depletion of Australia’s Super Rugby sides would make it even more difficult for them to level the playing field.

“I think their situation now, in terms of getting to the top of world rugby and winning a Rugby World Cup, I think they’ve obviously had a really good think about it and these guys [foreign-based players] will make a significant difference,” the former 100-test international told The Breakdown.

“I think what JK’s talking about is they’re already struggling with some of the depth that’s there.

“If all that depth’s going overseas to Europe and chasing a lot bigger money, which understandably there is, then they’re going to lose their depth in their squads even more so.

“Depending on how that looks now, the New Zealand sides will be beating them 50-plus all the time if they’re going to lose all their players.”

However, Muliaina added that, while it could drastically impact Super Rugby, the relaxation of the Giteau Law would help improve the Wallabies at test level.

“Will they be competitive? I think they will,” the 2011 World Cup winner said.

“I honestly think the way club rugby is over there [in Europe], in terms of the Premiership, I think the guys that are coming back are in a lot better nick and they’re adjusting a lot faster than they used to back in my day.

“Super Rugby will take a massive hit, but you’d have to say the Wallabies are doing it to make sure that it’s a roll-on effect.

“They start performing, they start winning and bringing in more sponsorship, it grows their game, then they can put that money towards funding in terms of recruitment and keeping their players here.

“So, I totally understand where they’re going with there in Australia.”

By Alex McLeod, Rugbypass

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