Monday, 20 April 2015

English Qualified Players: What are they and why are we missing out?

Rugby loves on acronym.  RFU, ERC, IRB, though they now like to grandly  be called “World Rugby”, surely to be shortened to WR in no time.  PRL, EPS, EQP.  This article will focus on that last one.

“EQP”, people who live their lives arguing on the internet will be familiar with this one already, those of you with real lives in the real world need to have a word with yourself and reassess your priorities.  It means “England Qualified Player” and is according to some the only thing holding English rugby back from the Sodom & Gomorrah of English football and French rugby.

So what is an “EQP”?  Well it’s a bit of a Ronseal name, it does what it says on the tin, they are players qualified to play for England.  

That is not English players, just whether the RFU could call them up under current World Rugby rules.  So we have situations like Hendre Fourie, eligible to earn 8 caps for England but facing deportation once he retired, and Cameron Zeiss, born abroad to foreign parents he was raised in London, went to Millfield and represented Leeds and Esher yet before this season started he was released by Plymouth Albion because a season playing for Tarbes meant he was no longer an EQP.

So to be an EQP you need to:
  • Have not represented another nation’s test team, 7s team or “nominated next senior representative side” in a game against a test side or another nominated side, the nominated side for England, Ireland and Australia is the A side but Under 20s for Wales, South Africa and France.  And the final bit means U 20s players are only tied when they play against another country that also ties its players.
  • Be born in England.
  • Or have a parent born in England.
  • Or have a grandparent born in England.
  • Or have spent at least the last 36 months uninterrupted with your principle residence in England.

The last one meant that Chris Horsman qualified for Wales despite playing for Worcester as he lived in Monmouthshire whilst the grandparent rule was famously exploited by Thomas Waldrom.

So we can all agree it’s a bit of an odd arbitrary measure of Englishness.  It makes fresh off the boat Kiwis like our new signing Brendan O’Connor more English than Cameron Zeiss.

Why are EQPs so important?  As ever the reason is money.  In 2008 the RFU started paying out bonuses to clubs that met a target of 14 EQPs out of 22, 60% of the squad effectively.  This was mainly because of scaremongering that England’s fall from grace post 2003 had nothing to do with the difficult fact Harry Ellis wasn’t as good as Matt Dawson and Shaun Perry was barely fit, let alone fit enough to lace Kieran Bracken’s boots.  No, apparently this was the foreigners fault.

This season the payments are worth a reported £300k and the quota has increased to 15 out of 23, or 65%, and Tigers are currently off the pace averaging 14.47 EQPs across the Premiership so far, the only club to not be meeting our master’s target.

Is this a problem?  Well yes and no.  Its money so we want it, it’s the RFU’s money so we want it even more just so they can’t have it and every one of our rivals is likely to be getting it, but it’s not make or break money and getting into the play offs and winning rugby matches is far more important.

We met it last year and in 2013 when we won the title we averaged 71% or 16.33 EQPs per match day squad.  It’s also important to remember we are talking about 10 players across 19 matches.

Why aren’t we meeting it?  Well firstly it’s gone up by 5% so we are actually picking more EQP than in 2012 but now missing out.  Some people have blamed injuries to players such as Manu Tuilagi and Tom Youngs.  But this doesn’t bare scrutiny as Tom Youngs was replaced by Harry Thacker or Neil Briggs, also EQP, whist Manu’s injury has seen Vereniki Goneva move to the centre it has also opened up a wing spot taken by either Adam Thompstone or Miles Benjamin.

In fact were it not for injury to Logovi’i Mulipola would we have seen so much of Fraser Balmain?

One reason we are missing out is that we have replaced players like Boris Stankovich (EQP despite being born and raised in NZ) with Michele Rizzo, and Rob Hawkins with Leonardo Ghiraldini.  I use those positions because last year we had an EQP loosehead on 5 occasions to 1 this year and at hooker we had no non-EQP players at all last year.

At centre; last year we picked only EQPs in Allen, Flood, Smith and Bowden (again EQP despite being born and raised in NZ), this year we replaced Bowden with the Fijian Bai and with Allen injured we have used a non-EQP 12 on 12 occasions.  Is that down to injury or squad planning?

This also highlights a major problem with the EQP system.  There are English players as good as Rizzo, like Matt Mullan, or Bai but because of the EQP quota they are very valuable commanding above market rate wages and cannot always be fitted in under the salary cap, whilst there is just not an EQP hooker the quality of Ghiraldini available.

Tigers knew the rules though and if we are bothered about meeting our EQP target we cannot just shrug our shoulders and blame the injuries bogey man, our transfer policy has clearly had a bigger effect.

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