England happy for France to go it alone in eligibility crackdown

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England's Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie (L), pictured in 2015, says there was no contradiction in calling up Auckland-born Denny Solomona now and backing the five-year rule when it came into force

England's top rugby administrator insisted Friday he'd no plans to follow France's example in tightening eligibility criteria after Denny Solomona became the latest player called up by the Six Nations champions on residency grounds.

Solomona, an Auckland-born former Fiji rugby league international, was included Thursday by coach Eddie Jones in England's squad for their upcoming tour of Argentina.

The 23-year-old only became a rugby union player in December when he joined Premiership side Sale in a disputed move from English rugby league club Castleford.

But he has served the three-year residency qualification required by World Rugby, rugby union's global governing body, and with 10 tries in 13 appearances for Sale there's no doubting his raw talent.

However, amid concerns of a player drain from financially poor nations such as Fiji to far wealthier countries like England, World Rugby plans to extend the residency qualification period to five years.

In December, France said they would stop selecting non-French players qualified under the three-year rule.

French Rugby Federation (FFR) president Bernard Laporte said foreign-born players who currently play for France would remain eligible but new players will require a French passport.

There has been a flood of high-profile international stars into the cash-rich French Top 14 at a time when the national side have been struggling.

But with his country riding high after back-to-back Six Nations triumphs, the chief executive of England's governing Rugby Football Union said there was no contradiction in calling up Solomona now and backing the five-year rule when it came into force.

"We checked very carefully that Denny hits the current qualification," Ian Ritchie told a Twickenham news conference.

"Why therefore would not one pick him?"

- 'Stick to the rules' -

He added: "I would say to Eddie pick the player first and foremost. It is your rugby call as to who you want to play.

"When it comes up in Kyoto (at a World Rugby meeting) in May we will be supporting five years.

"There’s nothing inconsistent at all in saying in the current rules he is eligible to play, therefore we will play him, but we believe in five years and when five years comes in we will adhere to the rules. I’m a great believer in sticking to the rules."

As for following the lead of the FFR, Ritchie said: "I was aware of the French doing that and had discussions with them about that. That’s a matter for the FFR."

England's history as the cornerstone of the British Empire, mean its sports teams have often had a more cosmopolitan air about them than those of rival nations.

But there's no overlooking modern financial realities either, with Fiji-born back-row Nathan Hughes, who made his England debut last year, saying bluntly: "I play my rugby to support my family and put shelter over their heads."

Hughes is one of several players in England's set-up who could play for another country, including their New Zealand-born captain Dylan Hartley.

"Being of a certain age, I remember Colin Cowdrey was born in India but I don’t remember a lot of discussions that said he will not be the England cricket captain because he was born in the India," said Ritchie.