World Rugby has approved a landmark amendment to its eligibility laws which will allow players to switch countries from January in what could be a game-changing move for the sport.
The ruling means that from the start of next year Bristol’s former All Black Charles Piutau will be free to represent Tonga and paves the way for the England internationals Mako and Billy Vunipola to be eligible for the Pacific Island nation in the future.
Players who have been stood down for three years and were either born in the country they wish to represent or have a parent or grandparent will now be free to change the union that they represent.
Previously, players wishing to change unions could only do so by exploiting a convoluted sevens loophole, but the amendments makes the process far more straightforward.
Developing nations – particularly Tonga, Fiji and Samoa – stand to benefit from the amendment, but players are not restricted to moving from a tier-one country to a tier-two nation.
The World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: “Approval of this landmark regulatory change is the culmination of detailed and widespread modelling and consultation across the game. We have listened to our membership and players and sought to update the regulation recognising the modern professional rugby environment without compromising the integrity of the international game.”