It's a patently ridiculous project looking for New Zealanders in the British and Irish Lions.

Ridiculous but sadly not futile as there are two in the 41-man tour party as well as a South African.

The debate isn't about whether Jared Payne, Ben Te'o and CJ Stander are good enough to be Lions.

The question is deeper, more fundamental, which is how on earth do they end up playing for the Lions when all three of them, or certainly Payne and Stander, no doubt grew up dreaming about playing against them?


And the answer is because rugby has a nonsense residency law that allows players to take a club contract and hey presto, three years later they are eligible for that nation's national team.

The nonsense part is that rugby executives are a little pompous and superior about rugby's eligibility laws, claiming as they do that they are steeped in integrity and credibility.

There's a bit of a nod in the direction of rugby league when they say it, as if to point out that their neighbouring code's garden is a shambles, a nasty eye sore that invites judgement.

But rugby's kidding itself if it thinks it's in a position to judge. Just because they changed a few things after the Grannygate scandal in 2000 and outlawed players being able to represent two different nations in a career, doesn't mean all is well.

And the selection of the Lions squad brings to light the seriousness of the flaws in the current set up.

Take Payne as the example. He was pushing towards the edge of All Blacks' selection in 2010 and 2011.

He'd consistently impressed at both the Crusaders and Blues, either at wing, fullback or centre and he was probably only a couple of injuries away from making the World Cup squad.

No one is suggesting he was going to be a regular All Black, but the point is he was targeting that as his goal, right up until Ulster came calling with a swag of cash that saw him head to Ireland.


The story to this point has no twists - until it is realised that Ulster were supported financially by the Irish Rugby Union in making the payment because the latter could see that Payne would have served his required residency period at about the same time they expected the great Brian O'Driscoll to retire.

They bought a New Zealander to fill a national jersey and while that is their business to square away with those domestic players trying to make it through the development pathways, it becomes a bigger problem when Payne and others who have converted as so-called project players, make the British and Irish Lions.

It's one thing for Irish players to miss out on playing for Ireland because of an import, but is it fair that say, Scots, Welsh and English players should miss out on winning a place with the Lions for that same reason?

This is a question rugby has started to tackle, but to which it needs a definitive answer soon. A dreaded working group was set up by World Rugby late last year to look into potential solutions to the existing residency law.

The most likely change, if there is going to be one, is to push the qualifying period out to five years. There is some resistance to that idea, though, but it has to be shot down and the Lions used as the reason why.

It has to be wrong that there are as many New Zealanders in the Lions as there are Scots.