The news that Greig Laidlaw is going to see out his playing career in Japan truly heartened me. This great servant to Scottish rugby is getting a well-earned boost to his pension in a country where rugby fans admire him, and as he’s 35 in October, learning about how rugby is played and coached in another country will help him prepare for what I hope will be a smooth transition into the coaching ranks – wouldn’t it be great to see him in charge of Edinburgh Rugby or Glasgow Warriors or even Scotland one day?

Having captained Scotland more than any other man, Laidlaw will provide his new team the Shining Arcs with leadership on and off the field, and having played for three years both in England and France, I doubt if there is any current player from Scotland who has the sort of experience that Laidlaw has already accrued. His acquisition will also help Shining Arcs grow the popularity of the game in Japan which was dealt a huge blow by the coronavirus pandemic after the huge boost that the World Cup brought to rugby in the country. The Japanese rugby authorities called an early halt to the Top League and have spent months preparing for the new season which is set to be enhanced by the arrival of several top internationalists.  

Over the 25 years since professionalism arrived, Scottish players have invariably improved for going to play in England and France, but Japan provides a new melting pot for Laidlaw to learn even more about rugby. Which brings me neatly to another export from the UK heading for Japan, and the absurdity of the Rugby Football Union’s ban on selected players for England because they have chosen to play abroad.

I am a huge admirer of George Kruis, the England and British Lions second row who has joined Japanese outfit Panasonic Wild Knights where other imports include Wales centre Hadleigh Parkes.

Both these excellent players will not now be eligible for selection for England and Wales. The former has a blanket ban on picking players who go abroad, while the Welsh Rugby Union will only continue to select you if you have already acquired 60 caps – a sort of pensioners’ dispensation. Parkes only has 29 caps and at 32 could have added a few more, not least because he has become a mainstay in midfield for them. Owen Williams joining the Red Hurricanes in Japan from Gloucester is another loss for Wales, but Welsh coach Wayne Pivac was already resigned to doing without the fly-half/centre and had not picked him for the abortive match against Scotland in the curtailed Six Nations.     

Kruis will be a huge miss for England. Here’s what colleague Jamie George had to say about him: “Everyone looks at his lineout – he’s a nause, a guru, whatever you want to call it he’s brilliant – but he works incredibly hard on his all-round game. He is one of the hardest-working players you will find … in terms of standard-setting you don’t need to look much further than him.”

I have to agree wholeheartedly. Kruis never gives less than 100% and I just wish he was Scottish – and I don’t have any bigger compliment than that.  Yet unless there are “exceptional circumstances” – defined as an injury crisis – Kruis will not play for England in the foreseeable future, which is extremely hard on the 30-year-old.

Also looking to the England exit door is Manu Tuilagi, the Leicester and England centre who in my far from humble opinion is among the two or three best centres in the world and who is heading abroad. Again, I wish he was Scottish.

Here’s the point about the English players in particular - they are only having to leave because the pandemic hammered their clubs, with Kruis's Saracens already deep in the self-inflicted mire anyway.   Kruis and Tuilagi have exercised what should be the right of working people everywhere, and have moved to another country to earn more money and further their careers, just as Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell, Sean Maitland, Allan Dell, Richie Gray and  Stuart Hogg have done in recent years, and John Beattie, Max Evans, Jim Hamilton, Nathan Hines, and Alasdair Strokosch did before them.

There’s no serious evidence that moving from Scotland to play elsewhere has stopped the international careers of Scottish players, and there is absolutely no blanket ban on Scottish internationalists moving to England or elsewhere. Yet England and Wales, and to a lesser extent Ireland, ban their players from national sides if they go to other countries while France will now only pick players with French passports – the three-year residency rule to qualify for selection is ‘hors de fenestre,’ to coin a phrase.   

I think it’s total madness, and blatantly against the rights of professional players with short careers in any case.  I wonder what England coach Eddie Jones really thinks about it, but I for one will be delighted to see an England team without Kruis and Tuilagi so hopefully the always arrogant RFU will continue with their policy.