Updated: 08/28/2014 10:35 | By Agence France-Presse

Australia gives green light to rugby union sabbaticals

Australian rugby Thursday gave the green light to one-year sabbaticals for top internationals, easing strict eligibility rules in a bid to halt a drift of talent overseas.

Australia gives green light to rugby union sabbaticals

An Australian player is tackled during the rugby union Test Match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australian Wallabies in Auckland, August 23, 2014 - by Michael Bradley

The change was approved by the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) board this week, allowing players the opportunity to join a foreign domestic competition from 2016 while under contract with Australian rugby.

Currently only domestic-based players are allowed to represent Australia. ARU chief executive Bill Pulver said the new policy would help retain players long-term.

"We’ve recognised that in the context of an increasingly global market for rugby players that we need to take a more flexible approach to player contracting," he said.

"As such, we need to be proactive and adapt our policies to best serve the interests of rugby in Australia.

"By adopting a flexible contracting model, we’re creating a platform for our players to experience what rugby has to offer in Australia and abroad, all while maintaining their allegiance to Australian rugby over a long-term period."

This year, former Wallabies captain Ben Mowen and Australia lock Kane Douglas have gone to France and Ireland respectively, while Israel Folau and Will Genia have been linked with possible moves.

Flexible contracts will allow the ARU and Super Rugby provincial teams to reward players deemed to be making a significant contribution to rugby in Australia, the ARU said.

The ARU also Australia's Rugby Sevens players at the 2016 Rio Olympics will be able to play the 2016-17 Japanese domestic season without affecting their eligibility for the Wallabies upon their return in 2017.

New Zealand has given sabbaticals to its top players including Dan Carter, who played a season in France, and Ma'a Nonu, who went to Japan.

This week, the All Blacks also eased eligibility criteria for code-swapping star Sonny Bill Williams, making him available for despite not playing domestic rugby this season.

Pulver said the ARU was confident the new arrangement would encourage players to commit to Australian rugby.

"Decisions regarding all flexible contracts will be made on a case-by-case basis, understanding that our key priority remains that the Wallabies and Super Rugby provinces have a strong and deep playing pool of talent available each year,” Pulver said.

He added that none of the changes would alter Australian rugby’s policy that only those playing in Australia would be eligible to be a Wallaby. 

"It does however provide greater flexibility in the contracting process by allowing select players the opportunity to become eligible for Test representation at different points of the year," he said. 

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