A revolutionary change to rugby union’s international eligibility rules has been approved by World Rugby.
It means from January 2022 a player will now be able to represent a different country after a stand-down period of three years.
A player can move to a nation of their, their parents’ or grandparents’ birth, but can only switch allegiance once.
In a surprise move, the ruling was passed on Wednesday by more than 75% of the World Rugby council votes.
Under the current regulations, a player is ‘captured’ once they have won a senior cap – and are thereafter tied to that country and unable to play for another nation.
However the new process will see players able to play for two different countries during the course of their international career.
World Rugby believes the change will “benefit players and the global competitiveness of rugby”.
The chairman of the governing body Bill Beaumont added: “We have listened to our membership and players and sought to update the regulation recognising the modern professional rugby environment without compromising the integrity of the international game.”
The move has also been backed by the global players’ union, which says the decision is the culmination of years of work with its members and had unanimous support from players worldwide.
“Many players across the world will now benefit from the chance to represent the country of their or their ancestors’ birth, serving as a real boost to the competitiveness of emerging nations, which in turn will benefit the game as a whole,” said International Rugby Players (IRP) chief executive Omar Hassanein.
However, while this will help the likes of Tonga and Samoa – with former All Black Charles Piutau among those who will switch nationality – there will be strong opposition from other emerging nations who prioritise the selection of home-grown players and may not benefit from the ruling.