When a Samoan can't play for France, because he's deemed to be a New Zealander, it's apparent that rugby's eligibility laws are in need of urgent fixing.

The strange case of David Smith, the former Blues and Hurricanes wing, has highlighted the shambles over which World Rugby presides when it comes to the rules around international qualification.

Smith was called up to the French national squad this week when injuries struck - on the basis he qualified on residency, having lived in France for more than the required three years. But after he turned up, he declared he'd played in a sevens tournament for New Zealand in 2008.

That appearance for the New Zealand sevens, according to World Rugby, meant Smith, who came to Mount Albert Grammar on scholarship from Samoa in 2003 when he was 16, was a Kiwi.


The ruling was hard to fathom on two levels. Firstly, what does sevens have to do with anything? It's clearly, in all aspects, totally detached from rugby. It is not so much a derivation of the code, but an entirely separate code.

Secondly, it highlights the flimsiness and inadequacy of the current residency laws. Smith is 29. He has spent half his life in Samoa and has a Samoan passport, yet will never be allowed to play for the country of his birth now.

He has spent the last five years playing in France and is expected to see out his career there, but he can't play for the country he now calls home. He passed through New Zealand as a young man, spent five years [as an adult] playing for the Blues and Hurricanes and, by accepting an invitation to play sevens, is now deemed to be eligible only for the All Blacks.

Not much of it makes sense and players around the world are hoping Smith's case will persuade World Rugby to push a review of the eligibility laws higher up their priority list.

World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper said before last year's World Cup that the residency clause, in particular, was in need of examination as it was being used as a carrot by wealthy European clubs to lure the best talent from the Southern Hemisphere.

The question raised was whether the time periods to qualify were long enough. The Smith situation has raised another question, whether playing sevens for one country should preclude them from being selected at XVs for another.

23 Feb, 2016 1:28pm
2 minutes to read

And just to confuse the picture further, Smith could yet play XVs for France if he plays for their sevens team in an Olympic qualifying event. Which means a Samoan who played sevens for New Zealand can't play XVs for France - but can play sevens for France and, by doing so, make himself eligible to play XVs for France.

Time for a review.