The Rugby Football Union has ruled that Premiership stars from South Africa and the Pacific Islands will continue to be classified as non-foreign until 2024, when the governing body is seeking to introduce beefed-up rules on England-qualified quotas, the Guardian understands.
Premiership clubs are entitled to two foreign players in their matchday squads and before Brexit anyone from South Africa, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga was not considered a foreign player due to the 2003 EU Association Agreement. Clubs, however, had feared that it would no longer be the case when the UK left the EU.
In the wake of Brexit the RFU opted temporarily to keep the existing definitions of non-foreign players and it is understood that at the union’s most recent council meeting an extension was agreed until the end of the 2023-24 season, after which the new Professional Game Agreement comes into force.
RFU guidance recently issued to clubs reads: “The decision on who can work in the UK is a matter for government. Player registration and classification rules however sit with the RFU and within the bounds of English law, it is the RFU’s decision to determine who is classified as a foreign or non-foreign player. As such due to the United Kingdom no longer being a member of the European Union, the RFU is working with stakeholders to determine the position going forwards with regards to the regulatory classification of foreign players.
“From summer 2024 there will be a new EQPs system and new foreign player rules. There is further work to do to agree the detail of this subject to a new Professional Game Agreement and introduction into regulation. Pending this, an interim position will exist such that players who are or would have been classified as a non-foreign prior to 1 January 2021 will retain such non-foreign classification until the end of the 2023-24 season. This extended transitional period allows time for agents, clubs and players to plan ahead.”
The RFU has previously stated that from August 2024 onwards the intention is to make it compulsory for clubs to have 15 English-qualified players (EQPs) in a matchday squad and to overhaul the foreign player rule. A statement from last year read: “The intention is to move to a position where there is a mandatory EQPs system under which Premiership clubs must have a minimum of 15 EQPs in each matchday squad and the end of the foreign player rule to provide better England player development opportunities while giving greater flexibility for Premiership clubs to select non-EQP players of any nationality.”
The RFU’s stated aim of making 15 EPQs per matchday squad mandatory is an attempt to bring England closer in line with France, who have reaped the rewards of their JIFF ruling. Last week the RFU chief executive, Bill Sweeney, admitted “the English structure – everyone is fed up with it” and while he was referring more to the tug of war between club and country over England players both parties are seeking change from 2024 onwards.
The Springboks director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, recently sounded a warning about the impact that the number of South African players in the Premiership was potentially having on England.
Writing for the Mail on Sunday, he said: “People say the English system is the envy of the world because it has all the resources. I disagree. People say South Africa are stupid for allowing our players to leave. Is it stupid? Look at England, there are six or seven South African players taking the places of young English players at Premiership clubs. For us, it’s wonderful. Is it good for England that Faf de Klerk is starting ahead of Raffi Quirke at Sale? No. Is it good for South Africa? Yes, it works for us.”