A former Wales rugby player has slammed rugby's residency qualification rules with two further New Zealand-born players set to put on the red jersey following the World Cup.

Naturalised Kiwis Johnny McNicholl and Willis Halaholo look likely to make international debuts in the near future having lived in Wales for three years.

World Rugby's eligibility law change – increasing the requirements of foreigners to spend five years rather than three to qualify for their adopted nation – does not kick in until 2021. Anyone who shifted prior to this change is, therefore, free to make a swift change of allegiance.

Christchurch's McNicholl and Halaholo, the Mount Albert Grammar graduate turned Hurricanes' Super Rugby champion, recently inked new club deals to extend their time in Wales, with the ultimate intent of progressing to test rugby.


Paul Thorburn, who played for Wales at the 1987 World Cup, dubbed it an "absolute scandal" that players can change allegiances and claims Wales are taking advantage of it.

"It is a complete joke," he told Wales Online.

"In the 1990s, the International Rugby Board or World Rugby as it is now said they were trying to enhance performances of second-tier nations, but, here we are, a couple of decades on, and the same teams are qualifying for World Cup quarter-finals and the same countries are struggling to get a look in.

"Something isn't working and you'd have to think World Rugby have contributed to the process by allowing players to switch countries on residency grounds.

"It has encouraged players from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to head for Europe and change allegiance," he told Wales Online.

"How can the likes of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga become more competitive when such a situation prevails?

"I'm not against people moving around to earn money.

"But World Rugby are contradicting what they are supposedly trying to achieve.


"In the recent Six Nations Italy fielded a chap (Ian McKinley) with an Irish name when they played Ireland. How big a joke is that?

"There are countless other examples.

"It's become an absolute scandal and the people making the decisions at the top of the game, allowing all this, should resign and make way for others who would pursue a different course."

In a column for the Herald yesterday, rugby writer Liam Napier wrote "four of seven backs from New Zealand does not seem right".

"No one can begrudge players taking opportunities to progress careers. None of this quartet were ever seriously considered for the All Blacks, either, but this is a clear example of one country exploiting the eligibility loophole to the extreme," Napier wrote.

Six Nations champions Wales are not alone in fielding players who have switched allegiances, of course.

Scotland fielded more foreigners than anyone in the Six Nations; Australian second-five Sam Johnson, South African-born prop WP Nel and New Zealanders Sean Maitland and Simon Berghan among them. Former Hurricanes loose forward Blade Thomson was also named in the squad before suffering concussion.

Ireland have welcomed Bundee Aki, CJ Stander and James Lowe is expected to be one of the last to qualify under the old three-year laws.

Likewise England have benefitted in the cases of Brad Shields, Ben Te'o and Nathan Hughes.

Of those All Blacks who featured in the loss to Ireland in Dublin last year, only replacement props Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tu'ungafasi were born outside New Zealand.

Regular Wales number 10 Gareth Anscombe at least has a genuine connection to Wales with his mother, Tracy, born in Cardiff before moving to New Zealand as a teenager. She also named him after Welsh and Lions legend Gareth Edwards.