The ARU hasn’t given up hope of retaining Quade Cooper as it takes the fight to cashed-up European and Japanese clubs pilfering Australia’s elite rugby stars.
Cooper is the latest marquee player reportedly heading offshore at the end of the year, with French newspapers claiming the mercurial playmaker has already signed with Toulon.
“We’re still in a dialogue with Quade. I’m not aware of him having signed any contracts,” ARU CEO Bill Pulver said on Wednesday after announcing the ARU’s dramatic shift in its selection policy.
“We would love him to stay in Australia and that’s what we’re working towards.”
Pulver made no secret the ARU was also working towards warding off international sharks circling Australia’s finest talent.
He hopes the ARU’s landmark decision to allow particular overseas-based players to be eligible for Wallabies selection will make clubs “think twice” about luring Australia’s big guns offshore.
Only stalwarts who have played 60 Tests for the Wallabies and seven years of Super Rugby or at international level will be permitted the long-service dispensation.
Cooper falls seven Tests short, but could conceivably qualify by the end of the year.
Regardless, Pulver said the ARU was tired of its blue-chip stocks being raided.
“To some extent historically, international clubs have looked at Australian talent as an easy target because of the policy we had,” he said.
“When you look at this in combination with the flexible contracting that we’ve introduced, we think we are now putting together the tools that we need to be more effective in retaining players.
“We take the issue very seriously of talent in Australia moving offshore and we’ll continue to look at opportunities to refine our policies to deliver the outcomes we want.
“Given the complexity of the policy around eligibility for selection, I don’t really want to suggest that this is the end of the thought process.”
Pulver said the ARU had been grappling with the issue for some time, with more than a dozen Wallabies stars already playing overseas and a host including former skippers Will Genia, James Horwill and current vice-captain Adam Ashley-Cooper departing after the World Cup.
“While we do not believe these policy changes represent a silver bullet, we do believe that they represent a positive step towards delivering the outcomes that we want.
“What it does do is it provides more competition for positions and that generally provides better outcomes.
“So I would like to think one of the outcomes is a more competitive Wallaby outfit.”
Pulver said the ARU would also have no hesitation in applying the IRB’s “Regulation 9” that allows it to bring Wallabies back from overseas clubs on demand for Tests during certain international windows including the Rugby Championship and fixtures in June and November.
“With world rugby’s Regulation 9, we clearly have the capability to do that and maybe they’ll think twice about recruiting some of these players,” he said.
“We were not pulling players out of their competitions to represent Australia (until now).
“There is a real effort on our part to repatriate some of our players and we are going to be a lot more aggressive around that approach now.”