Ireland's foreign legion: The 12 provincial players in line for national service

Jean Kleyn provided the most recent flashpoint in the ongoing observations around the Irish Rugby Football Union’s use of the ‘residency rule’.

He is the latest of the outsourced internationals to come under the spotlight for representing a country other than his own.

The current three-year rule that allowed the Munster second-row to make his Ireland debut – in the same week he qualified to do so – has been increased to five years.

The change was announced in May 2017, ahead of the December 31, 2020 cut-off point, thus allowing the Irish provinces to make their moves between May and December two years ago.

The IRFU’s stance on the residency rule is not quite the epidemic some would have us believe. Not now anyway.

In fairness, there is a counter argument that one is one too many. At present, there are 12 senior players left in Ireland who started out on the project route with just four left to complete the three-year stay.


Munster’s Rhys Marshall will qualify before the end of this World Cup and his team-mate Chris Cloete will be eligible to declare in October 2020.

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Connacht’s Jarrad Butler can take his shot from July next year and Leinster’s James Lowe will have to wait the longest – until November 2020.

Of these, just Lowe and Butler entered the system between May and December 31, 2017.

At the moment, there are three overseas men – CJ Stander, Bundee Aki and Kleyn.

Of the 1,600 caps handed out during Joe Schmidt’s reign of 71 matches, 120 (seven per cent) have gone to residency-qualified players, 62 per cent of those taken up by Jared Payne, Stander and Aki for a combined total of 74 caps.

The controversial element to Kleyn’s declaration had a lot to do with the fact he was immediately parachuted into the World Cup squad ahead of Devin Toner. Understandably, the outrage in some quarters was coloured by sympathy for Toner, a stalwart and linchpin lineout savant.

Arguments centre on whether Kleyn is a better option than Toner when, in truth, both men bring different strengths to the table.

Ultimately, coach Joe Schmidt may have decided that Kleyn offers the muscle in the set-piece and on the edges that can free-up someone like James Ryan to make better use of his elite athleticism rather than be further restricted to the hard core duty of scrummaging on the tighthead side of the scrum and incessantly hammering away in the trenches.

After the World Cup, Schmidt’s replacement Andy Farrell will review the individual cases of Jamison Gibson-Park, just qualified, Marshall, Cloete, Butler and Lowe, as they happen. In reality, Butler and Cloete will have their hands full breaking into the national squad in an area when there are so many options.

The retirement of Rory Best will open the door to Seán Cronin, Niall Scannell, Rob Herring and Marshall under the new regime.

In this case, Marshall will be aware that none of the other three has been able to take their chances convincingly enough to dislodge Best.

Then again, Marshall has not been able to press his case well enough to unseat Scannell at the lower level.

Gibson-Park played the role of the tempo half-back in behind TJ Perenara for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby.

The queue of nines ahead of him include Conor Murray, Luke McGrath, Kieran Marmion and John Cooney.

By the time McGrath returns from Japan, Gibson-Park will be able to fight his corner.

Gone will be the days when coach Leo Cullen had to struggle with which one of three overseas players to leave out between Scott Fardy, Lowe and Gibson-Park.

In many ways, the intriguing contest between McGrath and Gibson-Park is reminiscent of that between Isaac Boss and Eoin Reddan at Leinster.

However, the decision to go for Kleyn over Toner for a seat on the plane to Japan could well be superseded by that of Aki over Garry Ringrose for the No 13 shirt against Scotland.

The difference is Aki has had the time that comes with 20 caps to win the hearts of the Irish public and the minds of the Ireland coaches.

The 12 players from the provinces in line for national service


Jamison Gibson-Park

Status: Ireland qualified – uncapped.

Debut: v Benetton, September 2, 2016.

Leinster caps: 70.

James Lowe

Status: Ireland qualified in November 2020.

Debut: v Benetton, December 2, 2017.

Leinster caps: 30.


Tyler Bleyendaal

Status: Ireland qualified – uncapped.

Debut: v Benetton, September 5, 2015.

Munster caps: 55.

Chris Cloete

Status: Ireland qualified in October 2020.

Debut: v Dragons, November 3, 2017.

Munster caps: 28.

Jean Kleyn

Status: Ireland qualified – 3 caps.

Debut: v Scarlets, September 3, 2016.

Munster caps: 63.

Rhys Marshall

Status: Ireland qualified in October 2019.

Debut: v Ospreys, November 4, 2016.

Munster caps: 66.

CJ Stander

Status: Ireland qualified – 33 caps.

Debut: v Scarlets, November 25, 2012.

Munster caps: 133.


Louis Ludik

Status: Ireland qualified.

Debut: v Scarlets, September 6, 2014.

Ulster caps: 92.


Bundee Aki

Status: Ireland qualified – 20 caps.

Debut: v Ospreys, October 31, 2014.

Connacht caps: 90 caps.

Jarrad Butler

Status: Ireland qualified in July 2020.

Debut: v Glasgow, September 7, 2017.

Connacht caps: 41.

Quinn Roux

Status: Ireland qualified – 12 caps.

Debut: Leinster v Dragons, September 8, 2012.

Leinster & Connacht caps: 21 & 92 – 103.

Tom McCartney

Status: Ireland qualified – uncapped.

Debut: v Zebre, November 21, 2014.

Connacht caps: 101.

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