Dan Leo warns the new residency qualification rule might force young players to leave Pacific Islands early

Dan Leo set up the independent body Pacific Rugby Players Welfare to campaign on issues like the residency rule
Dan Leo set up the independent body Pacific Rugby Players Welfare to campaign on issues like the residency rule

Former Samoa international Dan Leo has warned that the World Rugby's decision to increase the residency qualification period will see young talents leaving the Pacific Islands at an early age.

The game's governing body has now increased the number of years for a residency qualification from three to five years with an intention to help the countries especially smaller nations in preserving their players and it will come into effect from 31st December 2020.

However, the former Wasps lock believes the counter-reaction to the move from World Rugby could see players leaving the country at a very young age to Europe, Australia or New Zealand in a bid to represent their Test side after five years.

"You already see schools going to the Islands and offering scholarships for the last two years of school," said Leo.

"So does this ruling just mean that that process will start earlier? Our worry is that instead of receiving scholarships at 16 and 17, they will be offered scholarships at 14 and 15.

"The challenges that then come are building safeguards around the ruling.

"If youngsters move at 16 then even when the new rules come into force they will be naturalised at 21. If they move at 14 they will be naturalised by 19.

"We welcome the fact that World Rugby are working to improve the game for tier two nations and improve conditions."

Leo is a part of the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW) which also has former England and Fiji sevens coach Ben Ryan as it aims to help the Pacific Island players cope up with life outside the country.

France had a number of players from the Fijian origin during their autumn internationals while Nathan Hughes, Semesa Rokoduguni and most recently Denny Solomona are in contention for the England side.

Leo believes the new residency rule will adversely affect Pacific Islands more than any other country and hopes for the issue to be addressed at the grass-root level.

"I think this particular rule probably most benefits teams like Argentina, Japan, that don't have as much non-home grown talent," said Leo.

"Hopefully there will be the chance to examine ways to stop youngsters leaving the Islands at such a potentially early age.

"There can be a whole host of challenges for rugby players in moving to Europe or Japan, for example.

"I came to England at 23 and I found it tough enough then.

"We're providing support for players who do move abroad, and helping them cope with those challenges."