THIS could be the new Tonga XV after changes to World Rugby eligibility rules

Tonga XV after changes to World Rugby eligibility rules

World Rugby has voted to allow former international players the chance to switch allegiance to a new country. Voted in by the full council of partner nations, the improved World Rugby eligibility rules will be a huge encouragement to many who have publically asked for the opportunity to represent one nation, another playing for another.

This is providing they were born in that country or, have a parent/grandparent from that nation. They must also “stand down from international rugby for 3 years”. The change comes into place as soon as 1st January 2022.

Welcomed widely, this could have huge ramifications for the 2023 World Cup. The Pacific Islands are understandably the main beneficiaries of this, with Tonga arguably top of the list. After a winless Autumn International campaign, Tongan fans will be pleased to see a potential new Tonga XV (possibly) heading to the Rugby World Cup 2023.

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THIS could be the new Tonga XV after changes to World Rugby eligibility rules

To the elation of players, administrators, and stakeholders in Pacifica rugby; as much as for all Tier Two nations, the elation was clear to see. And immediately, the imagination began to bloom. ‘Imagine if….’ and Last Word on Rugby felt exactly the same.

So while the make-up of squads like Tonga could have any number of men and women consider themselves to be eligible, why not make a ‘dream XV’. From those who would intentionally raise their arms, to some who would be the perfect fit if considered. So the below composite side could one day [theoretically] someday walk out of the changing rooms in red.

Back Three: Charles Piutau, Telusa Veainu, Israel Folau 

Perhaps the most referenced player when it comes to the policy, Piutau has become one of the best full-backs in European club rugby. Former Wallaby Folau has meanwhile returned to rugby union with Japanese side NTT Communications. The prospect of Folau playing for the Islanders has already been welcomed by Tonga coach Toutai Kefu, saying of the player: “He’s Tongan, he’s a bloody good player – we’re more than happy to have him”.

Joining them is current Tongan international Veainu, one of the best sidesteppers in the game. Another former All Black, George Moala, also provides a class option at both wing and center.

Midfield: Malakai Fekitoa, Pita Ahki

This pairing is perfect if Kefu wants to add some ‘Boomfa!’ to the midfield. Fekitoa was sensational when breaking onto the scene for New Zealand, and combining him with another former All Black offers huge potential. Ahki was terrific for Toulouse during last season’s European Champions Cup win. Tonga could eventually obtain the services of powerhouse Ngani Laumape, but he wouldn’t be eligible until November 2023, as he represented the All Blacks in 2020.

Half-Backs: Latuiume Fosita, Sonatane Takalua 

The new acquisition at scrum-half could come in the form of former All Black Augustine Pulu. However, it would be harsh to unseat current Tonga captain Takalua, who is on course to become the most capped player for Tonga in history. It shows the policy could create depth for Kefu’s squad as well as a star-studded XV.

Front Row: Ben Tameifuna, Paul Ngauamo, Sekope Kepu 

Big-man Tameifuna shifts to loosehead to make way for Kepu. Kepu earned over 100 caps for Australia, representing them in three world cups. This experience could prove invaluable for Tonga.

Locks: Sitiveni Mafi, Adam Coleman 

The London Irish pairing could be a great combination for Tonga. Mafi didn’t play the recent internationals but, has featured for the Islanders at the past two World Cups. Meanwhile, Adam Coleman would offer plenty of international expertise from his time with Australia. His lineout skills could help improve the inconsistency Tonga has shown in this area.

Back Row: Vaea Fifita, Lopeti Timani, Sione Vailanu  

Fifita has incredible athleticism, scoring a great try on debut for the All Blacks against Argentina. It will be a special moment if he can join his brother, current Tonga second-row Leva, in the national side. Joining him would be former Wallaby Timani and Worcester’s Vailanu to forge a back row with plenty of size.

Editors note: while an imagined combination, one wonders if this XV versus the All Blacks might have repelled the New Zealand team much better, than the young, inexperienced group who were forced together and sadly, lost by 102-0.

Now, with World Rugby allowing a vote by all members, the possibility of players who represented another country, could not play for their birth nation. World Rugby eligibility rules changes are a huge step forward – following on from years of discussion and [often] demands from those who have been urging the governing body to make this change.

Dan Leo and the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare delighted

There are concerns about players from developing nations swapping to rugby’s elite sides, as it does work both ways. However, the reaction has been mostly positive. The news has been celebrated hugely by former Samoan second row, Dan Leo, and his Pacific Rugby Players Welfare organization. They have campaigned for years for this policy, referencing the issue on their flagship documentary, ‘Oceans Apart’. Leo will no doubt be excited about the potential line-ups of Pacific nations in the next World Cup.

As the World Rugby eligibility changes were shared all across the rugby globe today, the organization would simply add a quote-tweet: “we did it”!

Potential Tonga XV (* denotes players eligible through new policy)15 Charles Piutau*, 14 Telusa Veainu, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Pita Ahki*, 11 Israel Folau*, 10 Latiume Fosita, 9 Sonatane Takalua; 1 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Paul Ngauamo, 3 Sekope Kefu*, 4 Vaea Fifita*, 5 Adam Coleman*, 6 Steve Mafi, 7 Lopeti Timani*, 8 Sione Vailanu.


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