Rugby: Scotland legend wants tighter eligibility rules

Under Milne's proposal WP Nel, with ball, could not play for Scotland

Under Milne's proposal WP Nel, with ball, could not play for Scotland

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Grand SLAM legend Kenny Milne is urging international rugby authorities to toughen eligibility regulations as the Scotland team he represented with distinction 39 times prepares to usher in an official era of so-called “project signings”.

The former British and Irish Lions hooker acknowledges that by bringing in individuals such as Willem Petrus Nel from South Africa’s Orange Free State and qualifying him to represent Scotland at the 2015 World Cup under a three-year residency rule, the Murrayfield authorities are simply playing by existing rules.

But Milne, who represented Scotland in the 1990 clean sweep, would like to see a tiered system of nations where players can only move to the tier above to prevent jumping 
between countries in a chase for 
honours.

He argues: “At the heart of this is the need for the IRB to step in and create a system based on tiers so that only the Tim Vissers of this world can have a chance of playing at the highest level and not somebody who isn’t good enough to make the Springboks or All Blacks.”

Adds Milne: “What I suggest is that international rugby is divided into bands of about 12 or 14 teams. These can be 
reviewed after each World Cup and there are pretty clear 
distinctions as it is.

“For someone like Visser to come from Holland, join 
Edinburgh Rugby and qualify for Scotland after three years is not only assisting him to fulfil potential but his emergence as an internationalist should have a beneficial effect on rugby in his native country. I’d even go so far as to allow Tim to also play for Holland if only in exhibition matches until such times as his Scotland career is over.

“However, the Saracens club for example contains a raft of players who were born in South Africa but will shortly be eligible to join others of their ilk in England’s team even though they have no English blood in them. Why should some 
players have two options of 
international rugby?

“Rugby is now global and if someone chooses to play abroad to make more money then they should take their chance at home so far as international caps are concerned.

“A tiered eligibility system would prevent players having it both ways at the expense of others, even if New Zealand and Australia would be affected most through having qualified Samoans, Fijians and Tongans on residency grounds for years to the detriment of the islands’ teams.

“Fortunately, the IRB stepped in a while ago and ruled against players being able to represent two countries in their top-class careers and further action is needed again.”

Milne saves his strongest criticisms for the way in which a former colleague, Dave Hilton, was allowed to play for Scotland through insufficient checking of a birthright.

Milne said: “Much as I like Dave Hilton, it was totally wrong that he was taken at his word by the SRU when he said his grandfather was born in Glasgow.

“By the time it was revealed the grandfather was born in Bristol, Hilts had 41 caps (he only gained one more after moving to play for Glasgow and fulfil the three-year eligibility criteria).

“During the time Hilts was playing international rugby, how many naturally-qualified Scots with clear bloodlines, 
albeit through grandparents in some instances, were denied their ambitions?

“I simply cannot accept that in any family conversations Dave Hilton had, he did not discover his grandfather wasn’t Scottish.

“To have a clear order of progression and then see it taken away from you in rugby because of outside forces, maybe even after coming up through under-18 and under-20 ranks, is quite wrong.

“It might provide a quick fix but in the longer term you might have frustrated a couple of potential internationalists to the point of losing them to the game.”

The issue of “project signings”, as confirmed by the SRU earlier this year, continues to provoke strong debate and among those drawn into the arguments are ex-Scotland caps Jim Calder and Doddie Weir.

Defending a policy that has brought WP Nel to an Edinburgh team he serves as chairman, Calder recently told BBC Scotland: “For Scotland to compete in years to come we have to do this.”

But Doddie Weir hit out: “Let’s scour the world, no problem. But if they are not Scottish, I say no. At the moment, ones coming into the team are home grown. More time should be spent on that before they go abroad for players.

“Openly going out to find 
foreigners and cap them – I don’t agree. Scotland is unique. We are passionate and proud about what we do on and off the field.

“They (SRU) could maybe have said it behind closed doors. If they don’t say it to 
anyone – is that dishonest?”