Leo warns of mass exodus

Former Samoa international Dan Leo believes the new residency rule will result in a mass exodus of young Pacific Islanders’ talent. 

Leo set up the independent body Pacific Rugby Players Welfare to campaign on issues like the residency rule as well as providing psychological and moral support for Pacific Islanders playing in Europe. There are more than 80 players of Pacific Islands heritage in the Premiership and almost 600 across Europe. England centres Manu Tuilagi and Ben Te'o are board members of PRPW.

World Rugby announced on Wednesday that they would increase the number of years for a residency qualification from three to five years with the policy coming into effect from December 31, 2020.

Despite what Leo believes are good intentions from World Rugby. he feels it might have an adverse effect on countries with a lot of homegrown talent such as those in the Pacific Islands i.e. Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.

Leo says that this will probably result in talent leaving the Pacific Islands earlier so as to become eligible by the time they
come of age.

"You already see schools going to the Islands and offering scholarships for the last two years of school," Leo told Talking Rugby Union.

"So does this ruling just mean that that process will start earlier? Our worry is that instead of receiving scholarships at 16 and 17, they will be offered scholarships at 14 and 15.

"The challenges that then come are building safeguards around the ruling.

"If youngsters move at 16 then even when the new rules come into force they will be naturalised at 21. If they move at 14 they will be naturalised by 19.

"We welcome the fact that World Rugby are working to improve the game for tier two nations and improve conditions."

Leo went on to say the new rule would benefit countries like Argentina and Japan that don't produce as much homegrown talent

"I think this particular rule probably most benefits teams like Argentina, Japan, that don't have as much non-home grown talent," said Leo.

"Hopefully there will be the chance to examine ways to stop youngsters leaving the Islands at such a potentially early age.

"There can be a whole host of challenges for rugby players in moving to Europe or Japan, for example.

"I came to England at 23 and I found it tough enough then.

"We're providing support for players who do move abroad, and helping them cope with those challenges."