South Africans playing in Ireland could be forced to look elsewhere for employment following the Irish Rugby Football Union's new regulations limiting non-Irish qualified players.
The IRFU has introduced the regulations to protect the talent coming through that will be available to the national team.
Under the new regime only one non-Irish qualified player will be allowed to play across the fifteen positions for Ulster, Leinster and Munster.
This means that if an overseas player such as Springbok lock Johann Muller were to continue to play for Ulster, then neither Leinster nor Munster would be permitted to have a foreign second row on their books when these changes take effect in 2013.
The reasons for the changes are to make sure that at least two quality players are available to the national team in every position from the three large Irish sides, with an IRFU statement explaining that "Irish qualified players who have progressed through the provincial academy systems will see greater opportunities for professional game time experience, allowing both the IRFU and provinces to deliver the maximum amount of value for the 2.5m-Euro that is invested annually across the four provincial academies".
However, the same statement on the Irish Rugby Football Union website revealed that the fourth Irish team involved in the Pro12, Connacht, would not be affected by the changes, as there is already a new programme of structural and performance development agreed with the IRFU.
South Africans Muller, Ruan Pienaar, Pedrie Wannenburg, Stefan Terblanché and Robbie Diack (all Ulster), Richardt Strauss, Heinke van der Merwe and Steven Sykes (all Leinster) and BJ Botha and Wian du Preez (both Munster) are all currently playing top-level rugby in Ireland.
However, Diack recently qualified to play for Ireland through residency, while Strauss is also headed in that direction having been in Dublin since 2009. Strauss is expected to qualify for Ireland at the end of this year.
Sykes, who sat on the Bok bench (against the B&I Lions in 2009), but never earned his national colours, moved to Ireland with the intention of representing his adopted country, saying at the time of his move (in March of this year): "I want to play international rugby and it would be a fantastic honour to play for Ireland as well if it came about."
To add to the South Africans currently playing for Leinster, Munster or Ulster, other foreigners such as Doug Howlett, Matt Berquist, Isa Nacewa, John Afoa, Simon Danielli and Jared Payne are also playing in Ireland, which means there could be some changes made to playing squads come 2013.
IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne added: "The challenges for the IRFU and the provincial teams are to continue to try to be successful at all levels, but balance this by recognising the model under which Irish rugby has produced that success over the last 12 years.
"The provincial teams have contributed hugely to the achievements of the Ireland team, but it is important to remember that the Ireland team is the marquee competitive outlet for the game in Ireland and also the financial mechanism that funds rugby at all levels.
"On this basis, it is essential that the Ireland team is given every opportunity to remain competitive at international level and to do that, it requires Irish-qualified players to gain continuous experience at club and provincial level.
"Equally, non-Irish qualified players have delivered much value and support to the success of the provincial teams and development of Irish players over the last number of years. The intention is that this will continue, but not to the detriment of the progress of Irish-qualified players in key positions.
"The refinements continue to allow the provinces to sign overseas players who will not alone play for the province but critically allow young Irish players to learn from these players and put this knowledge into practice by taking over the position once that player's contract is completed."
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