A LOOPHOLE IN the IRB’s international eligibility laws may mean that several former All Blacks and Wallabies line out for Tonga and Samoa in next year’s Rugby World Cup.
The loophole has come about due to rugby sevens’ inclusion in the Olympics in 2016, and means that players who have been capped at Test level for one nation can switch allegiance to another nation – as long as they hold a passport for that second country and have not played for the first country for at least 18 months.
The process would involve applying to play sevens for the ‘new’ nation in the 2014/15 IRB Sevens World Series, before becoming eligible to play the 15-a-side code thereafter.
Speculation has already centred around Steffon Armitage switching allegiance from England to France ahead of the World Cup, and now a number of ex-All Blacks and Wallabies have confirmed their interest around similar moves.
According to One News in New Zealand, Anthony Tuitavake, Sam Tuitupou [both Kiwi internationals] and ex-Wallabies Mark Gerrard and Sitaleki Timani will lodge applications to ‘transfer’ to Tonga.
Former Munster centre Lifeimi Mafi [who played sevens for New Zealand, but was born in Tonga] is another player One News say is “on board” to play for Tonga.
Other sources have linked Tim Nanai-Williams [NZ Sevens], Isaia Toeava and Lelia Masaga [both All Blacks] with moves to play for Samoa at the World Cup.
Under the same loophole, former New Zealand internationals like Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu could feasibly make applications to represent Fiji.
Tonga Rugby Union chairman Epi Taione told One News that the potential for players to change their international allegiance in favour of Tonga was hugely welcome, and that he has formed a ‘hit list’ of players to target – including George Smith and Ben Tameifuna.
So far it’s been very positive from every single player, so we’re quite chuffed about the response we’ve had so far. It’s the biggest positive news in my time as a player and now as an administrator for Tonga,” said Taione.
“We have been close but rugby is moving and we have to be on our toes and change with the times. These guys being available for us is huge news for Tongan rugby.”