Several ex-New Zealand and Australia internationals have confirmed that they will lodge an application to switch allegiances to a Pacific Island nation with whom they hold a passport, with a view to participating at the Rugby World Cup in England next year.
With the inclusion of rugby 7s at the Olympics in 2016, there has been a change in eligibility laws that will see players who have represented one nation now eligible to play for another, if they hold a passport from that country.
If they have not played international rugby in the past 18 months, they will be eligible for their new country in the Sevens World Series or designated Regional Olympic Qualification Tournaments and would thus be able to play for that country in all forms of rugby.
Amongst those that have already expressed a desire to switch nationalities are former All Blacks Anthony Tuitavake and Sam Tuitupou, and ex-Wallabies Mark Gerrard and Sitaleki Timani, who will apply to play for Tonga under IRB Regulation 8.
All Blacks sevens representatives Alando Soakai, Lifeimi Mafi and Roy Kinikinilau have also confirmed they will switch allegiance to Tonga, while Tim Nanai-Williams will make the switch to Samoa.
Other big name players that would be eligible to make the switch include All Black wingers Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu, both of whom could play for Fiji, and Casey Laulala, Chris Masoe and Lelia Masaga, who are eligible for Samoa.
Former Wallaby great George Smith, meanwhile, would be eligible for Tonga, and Chairman of Tonga Rugby Epi Taione has said the new laws have led him to draw up a ‘hit list’ of players he wants to play for Tonga, which includes Smith along with Waikato Chiefs prop 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,” Taione told tvnz.co.nz. “It’s the biggest positive news in my time as a player and now as an administrator for Tonga.”
“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.”
This eligibility loophole is the same one that was in the news recently with the report that Steffon Armitage could make a sensational switch to France in time for the World Cup, should he gain citizenship and have the opportunity to play in a sevens tournament in time.
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By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images