NSW Waratahs say Australia's Super Rugby sides have been briefed about potential changes to the Giteau Law but they remain short on details of a move that could have huge ramifications for both their future on- and off-field plans.
NSW Rugby on Tuesday unveiled the final pieces of its coaching puzzle for 2022, with former Wallabies prop Andrew Blades signing on as general manager of rugby, while Eastern Suburbs coach Pauli Taumoepeau will take on the role as Waratahs forward coach under Darren Coleman.
But it is news that Rugby Australia [RA] is seeking to overhaul, or at least alter, its Giteau Law -- which pertains to Wallabies eligibility for players based outside of Australia -- that continues to dominate Australian rugby headlines.
Just 12 hours after Dave Rennie's team was belted 57-22 in Bledisloe II -- surrendering the trophy for a 19th straight year in the process -- RA boss Andy Marinos confirmed plans to change the Giteau Law were being discussed.
While it had the look of a knee-jerk reaction to the Wallabies' second-half capitulation in Auckland, NSW Waratahs chief executive Paul Doorn confirmed his franchise had been aware of the discussions.
"I think at the moment they're still working through what they believe will be the changes in that space," Doorn told reporters on a Zoom call alongside Blades. "So we've been consulted through Andy and Rugby Australia, and they're going to come back to us as they develop their policy. But at the moment we don't have a huge amount of details.
"The Waratahs' view is pretty clear, what we want to see is the Super Rugby competition being the best provincial rugby competition in the world. We want access to the best possible players to play in that space and we need to be able to afford to do that.
"But from time to time, one of the best aspects of playing rugby is that you've got the ability to play around the world. So we've got no problems with people being brought back from overseas, I guess it's how do we still maintain NSW being an attractive competition to play in."
The Waratahs are perhaps best placed to comment on the ramifications of a potential change to the Test eligibility policy given their squad was devastated by a swathe of departures after both the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
While some of their winless 2021 season can be attributed to poor roster management and a lack of succession planning -- so too the COVID-19 pandemic -- the reality is that the Waratahs were forced to take a hugely inexperienced squad into both Super Rugby AU and Trans-Tasman competitions, and struggled to consistently compete as a result.
They also had Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper away on a lucrative six-month Japanese sabbatical, which up until recently appeared the best way to prevent an overseas exodus many think will indeed occur if the current Giteau Law is further amended.
Rennie has for the last two years been able to pick two overseas-based players for the Wallabies who do not meet the original Giteau Law framework of 60 Test caps and seven years' service to Australian rugby, but only this year exercised his option by selecting Duncan Paia'aua and then Samu Kerevi for the Rugby Championship.
But there have been reports that dropping those same markers to around the 30-cap mark and three or four years of Super Rugby might be a move RA is prepared to make.
Blades, whose remit will run across the game in NSW from the state's grassroots and schools competitions right through to working with Coleman and the rest of the Waratahs staff, admitted it was a tricky situation.
But the 32-Test prop said it was clear the policy needed an update that balanced the needs of the Wallabies and the realities of the huge financial benefits available overseas, with those of the Waratahs and Australia's other Super clubs who want to retain their best young talent and be as competitive as possible.
"You do have to get a balance there and reward guys who have put service in there," he said. "I think the younger guys who are going away at the moment who haven't done anything [played for Australia], the main thing is keeping the conversation lines open and letting them know you're still there. And hoping that if the opportunity comes and they're keen, that they come back again.
"It was interesting watching the Japanese League seeing some of the young [Australian] guys like [Jack] Cornelsen and some of the guys that have qualified for Japan, that's probably not what you want.
"But there's a few guys that have left in the last two years; say a young prop in France at the moment in his second year over there, and it would be nice in a few years' time when he's been bashed by a few French blokes that he knows that he's got relationships with all us here and that if we came searching for him he might want to come back.
"But you want that balance, whether it's three or four years, or 20 caps, or whatever, you want to have that balance there, not just a free-for-all."
The Waratahs have more immediate concerns in that they remain uncertain as to what Super Rugby will look like next year and that their squad members are limited in how they can train amid Sydney's surging COVID-19 outbreak.
Furthermore, the Shute Shield competition has officially been abandoned for the rest of the year, meaning the bulk of the Waratahs players -- those not selected by the Wallabies -- will have missed around a third of a typical rugby season.
Beyond that, the next generation of NSW players -- those around 16-18 years of age -- have been denied vital years of playing experience in school and club competitions in both 2020 and 2021, potentially creating a situation where in three to five years' time the Waratahs are playing catch-up in terms of their player development.
Blades is hopeful of finding alternative arrangements to help safeguard the Waratahs' playing pathways.
"It's a great point, to get better at footy you've got to be playing footy. And we want to give the guys as many opportunities as they can," Blades said.
"I think the key one was missing those next level up games [representative matches] that were planned for this time of year. So hopefully we can get some of those things happening, when things open up and even if it's after the HSC, that some of those guys get a chance to come in and keep playing.
"And also that's where we'll be working really closely with Shute Shield teams around all the guys in our programs to make sure they get playing opportunities during the year, to balance off that hard training with the opportunity to play games and build that game sense you need."