‘If I was Devin Toner ….. I will be asking WR for answers. I feel sorry for him; nothing against for who was properly selected for the RWC19 by the way. But feel that way.’
The tweet of World Rugby vice-chairman Agustin Pichot earlier this week upon hearing the news that the Irish second row had been omitted from Joe Schmidt’s 31 man squad. Toner, 33, made his debut for Ireland in 2010 and has amassed 67 caps. He missed out on selection for the 2011 World Cup, but made the squad in 2015. More significantly, he has played in 60 of the 70 tests Schmidt has overseen (the most of any player) and started 50 of those. Ultimately though, Schmidt has decided to go in a different direction and has picked South African born Jean Kleyn instead.
Kleyn played for Western Province and the Stormers before moving to Ireland in 2016, where he joined Munster and he qualified for Ireland last month under World Rugby’s eligibility rules, having lived in Ireland for 36 consecutive months.
So, what answers should Devin Toner be seeking from World Rugby Agustin? I, for one, am confused. The residency rule increases to 60 consecutive months on 31st December 2020, so basically if you were living in a new country by 31st December 2017, you ‘only’ need to have been there for 36 months. If you moved there on 1st January 2018, the 60 month rule applies.
So, Schmidt and Irish Rugby have followed the rules as they stand and Schmidt has made a call; a controversial one for many given Toner’s experience but no different to say, Owen Franks. Is it therefore acceptable for Pichot to pass comment on a coach’s legitimate selection? Frankly it’s not, it’s none of his business.
Last year he hit out at Brad Shields being selected for England and also tweeted a list showing the statistics of the top 11 rugby playing nations and the percentage of foreign-born players in their squads for the November internationals, so it’s clearly a subject that gets him going.
‘It’s ridiculous! I’m going to change it, I assure you.’
Another recent Pichot quote, this time regarding the much maligned World Rugby Rankings system.
‘It is a ranking that is badly done and I said it the first day I arrived at World Rugby….this was demonstrated when Wales never beat New Zealand in history (since the system was created) and now appears first.’
Ok, so most of us agree the system needs to be reviewed but it wasn’t Wales’ fault they took the No 1 position, however briefly, just as it wouldn’t have been Ireland’s fault if they had beaten Wales by 15 or more last weekend and taken the top spot themselves. So by all means get on with the review that you have wanted to do since you took on your role and bring out a better system; rugby fans will thank you for it, but it is what it is, so why not compliment Wales on getting to the summit rather than attack them for being successful under the existing system.
Despite the areas I’ve focused on, I’m generally a fan of Pichot. During the World League debate earlier this year I admired his stance on the proposed World League and he is a passionate and respected former player which I feel is something World Rugby can benefit from. But that passion has its downside and I think some of his comments have made him look less qualified for office. What subjects will take his fancy in Japan over the next couple of months? I have a feeling he will be making a few headlines but I doubt whether they’ll all be for good reasons.
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