International Rugby Board chairman Bernard Lapasset has hit out strongly at cash incentives being offered by clubs to have their players avoid representing their countries in tests.
It's been a prickly topic for years and surfaced again last year in Europe with suggestions that Pacific Island players had been kept out of the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand by wealthy European clubs determined to protect their investments.
The IRB held a summit on the topic in London this week with some of the game's powerbrokers and Lapasset felt progress had been made.
But he also made his feelings clear on actions that weaken national teams and undermine test rugby.
"The principle of player release is at the very heart of the integrity of the international game for the IRB and its 118 national member unions and players should not in any way be incentivised to forego representing their country if selected," Lapasset said.
At the summit unions and professional leagues apparently reaffirmed their commitment to work with the IRB to ensure that the best players are made available for their country if selected for international duty, as ordered under IRB Regulation 9.
Representatives from the Pacific Islands, Rugby Football Union, Fédération Française de Rugby, Premiership Rugby Limited, Ligue Nationale de Rugby and International Rugby Players' Association joined the IRB to evaluate the current landscape, identify issues and suggest potential strategies to collectively support the regulation.
Under Regulation 9, clubs are obliged to facilitate release during specific and clearly defined competition windows during the calendar year without financial or contractual impediment.
Everyone at the summit agreed that more can be done to ensure the best players are available for national selection.
"I would like to thank all the representatives for their strong contributions and I am delighted that we have a collective commitment to identifying a tangible way forward to ensuring adherence to Regulation 9 and enabling the best players from all countries to continue to showcase their talents on the world's biggest Rugby stages," Lapasset said.
The poor Pacific island nations are at the heart of this debate. They regularly punch above their weight on the test scene, despite selection restrictions.
Clearly the game needs full-strength island teams as they look to develop the depth of test rugby, particularly at World Cup time when, at present, only a handful of teams - from wealthy nations - are title contenders.
- © Fairfax NZ News