Australian board opens door on sabbaticals
August 28, 2014
Israel Folau will find it easier to juggle club ambitions with Wallabies eligibility under the ARU's changes © Getty Images
The Australian board has changed its policy to grant players a sabbatical while under a central contract as a pre-emptive move made in the light of the increasing likelihood a number of leading names will head to Europe after next year's Rugby World Cup.
Although the ARU insisted it would still only pick sides from those playing in Australia, it gave itself some wriggle room by agreeing to follow New Zealand's lead and allow top players one-year sabbaticals, allowing them to play outside the country. These sabbaticals may be in Japan or France with players out of the mix while they are abroad while on their 'flexible contract'.
"We've recognised that in the context of an increasingly global market for rugby players that we need to take a more flexible approach to player contracting," ARU chief executive Bill Pulver said. "As such, we need to be proactive and adapt our policies to best serve the interests of rugby in Australia.
"By adopting a flexible contracting model, we're creating a platform for our players to experience what rugby has to offer in Australia and abroad, all while maintaining their allegiance to Australian rugby over a long-term period."
Pulver said the ARU was confident the new arrangement would encourage players to commit to Australian rugby. "Decisions regarding all flexible contracts will be made on a case-by-case basis, understanding that our key priority remains that the Wallabies and Super Rugby provinces have a strong and deep playing pool of talent available each year."
He added that none of the changes would alter Australian rugby's policy that only those playing in Australia would be eligible to be a Wallaby. "It does however provide greater flexibility in the contracting process."
The ARU also indicated that Australia's Rugby Sevens players at the 2016 Rio Olympics will be able to play the 2016-2017 Japanese domestic season without affecting their eligibility for the Wallabies upon their return in 2017.
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