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Monday, 13 March, 2000, 13:52 GMT
Rugby's guns for hire

Sinkinson: His right to play for Wales is in doubt
Since the dawn of professionalism in rugby union, there has been a massive increase in players picked to represent countries other than the ones in which they were born.

A need to produce results in an ever-more competitive international arena has encouraged some teams, like Japan, to recruit as much as a quarter of their national squad from overseas.

Ieremia: The All Blacks' Samoan star
It is a telling statistic that only two sides in the last World Cup - Uruguay and Argentina - drew their squads from entirely homegrown talent.

The recent controversy surrounding the eligibility of Wales flanker Brett Sinkinson and fullback Shane Howarth has only succeeded in highlighting what is already an area of heated debate.

New Zealand-born Sinkinson's grandfather was reportedly born in Oldham, England rather than Carmarthen, Wales, prompting the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) to launch an investigation into the ancestry of its top foreign stars.

And the Sunday Telegraph, which published the exposť, could find no record of Howarth's Welsh grandmother.

Six Nations 'imports'
England: Catt
France: Matiu, Benazzi
Ireland: Sheehan, Mullins, Ward
Italy: Dominguez, Pini, Zisti
Scotland: J Leslie, M Leslie, Metcalfe, Simpson, Russell
Wales: Sinkinson, Howarth, Jones-Hughes, Peters, Cardey
In order to qualify for Test honours in a given country, International Rugby Board (IRB) rules state that a player must either have been born there, or have a parent or grandparent who was born there.

This is the route by which Scotland captain John Leslie, a New Zealander, and England's South African centre Mike Catt qualify for their adoptive lands.

Alternatively, a prospective candidate must have completed a period of residency longer than 36 months.

The Japanese used this method to recruit former All Blacks Jamie Josephs and Graeme Bachop.

New Zealand in turn have made frequent use of this provision to gain the services of stars from neighbouring Pacific islands.

Notables include Samoan legend Va'aiga Tuigamala, who returned to represent the land of his birth in the World Cup, and his countryman Alama Ieremia who is in the current All Blacks squad.

Diego Dominguez
Italy's Dominguez is Argentinian
The only major bar to qualification is if a player has already represented another country at a senior international level.

But the rules on eligibility are blurred and often loosely enforced - if at all - as demonstrated by the row last year over Australian-born Jason Jones-Hughes, whose father is Welsh.

The Australian Rugby Union's claim that Jones-Hughes could not play for Wales because he had already represented the Wallabies' second team was thrown out by the IRB.

In its successful defence, the WRU had drawn attention to the large number of dual internationals currently playing around the world.

The dispute did, however, lead to the closure of the loopholes that allowed for international appearances in the jersey of more than one country.

Va'aiga Tuigamala
Tuigamala: Capped for New Zealand and Samoa
Even so, the 1 January 2000 deadline prompted a rush to acquire a final batch of "eligible" overseas stars.

The Sinkinson case has further underlined the inadequacy of existing safeguards.

The IRB carries out no independent checks on players' claims and relies on the respective national unions to validate the ancestry of their recruits, although there is no provision to compel them to do so.

Regardless of the outcome of the WRU's investigation into its "born again Welshmen", there is likely to be further tightening of the qualification criteria with the possible loss of eligibility through parents and grandparents.

But the game's ruling bodies have yet to find a co-ordinated approach to other key questions raised by professionalism.

And it therefore seems unlikely they will move swiftly enough to counter ever-more ingenious ways of circumventing the rules, especially when the Sinkinsons and Tuigamalas of the future go knocking on their neighbours' doors.
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See also:

12 Mar 00 | Rugby Union
Wales to investigate foreign recruits
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Scots opt for Kiwi captain
06 Sep 99 | Rugby Union
Jones-Hughes cleared to play for Wales
Links to other Rugby Union stories are at the foot of the page.