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'Can he play sevens with the injury toll he has had?' - Bristol question Piutau's Olympic chances

By Liam Heagney

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Bristol have claimed they are in the dark regarding reports that their former All Blacks player Charles Piutau is being lined up to represent Tonga at the final Olympics 7s qualification tournament in Monaco in a few months’ time. Piutau earned the last of his 15 All Blacks caps in 2015 and has since concentrated on club rugby in the northern hemisphere, playing for Wasps, Ulster and now Bristol where he has been since 2018 along with his older brother Siale who skippered Tonga at the last World Cup in 2019. 

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A former Tonga U20s pick, reports claim that Charles Piutau can potentially take advantage of a clash in regulations governing World Rugby and the International Olympic Committee. The IOC eligibility criteria allows players to represent a second nation provided they have a passport for that country and have completed a three-year international stand down.

Once the break is completed, players must partake in an Olympic event to make themselves eligible for their new nation at all levels – meaning an appearance by Piutau at the Olympic qualifier would make him eligible to play for Tonga at Test level.  

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RugbyPass went behind the scenes with Siale Piutau’s Tonga in the run-up to World Cup 2019
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RugbyPass went behind the scenes with Siale Piutau’s Tonga in the run-up to World Cup 2019

The repechage tournament for the Tokyo Olympics is scheduled for Monaco on the weekend of June 19/20, a date that would clash with the semi-finals stages of the Gallagher Premiership, a tournament that Bristol currently lead by six points at the halfway stage.  

Bristol boss Pat Lam claimed that potential clash was currently irrelevant to him, saying at his weekly media conference: “At the moment it is a non-issue because the first I heard of it was in the media.”

However, he didn’t 100 per cent rule out the possibility of Piutau representing Tonga. “It was the first I heard in the media about it, the rule challenge. I haven’t talked to Charles at all about it but I know it has been available, an option for others in that sense. 

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“But the main thing would be around sevens is a completely different game from XVs and it is well documented that Charles has had a few niggles as he has gone through. It’s not only if Charles is available but can he play sevens with the injury toll that he has had?”

Asked in a RugbyPass interview in December 2019 about his ambitions to play for Tonga, Piutau said: “I have been asked this question many times and if the opportunity arises I would be more than happy to have a crack with Tonga and be able to help in whatever way that I can for the country in terms of the rugby team. Yeah, definitely.”

It’s an ambition that his brother Siale endorsed when also speaking to RugbyPass recently. “I do hope Charles gets to play,” he said. “He has always had a desire to get back and it will be great for the game. To see the likes of Charles and a lot of other players who could play would not only bring a buzz around our Pacific Island teams but could inspire some young kid around the world. I’ve seen it happen with the Tonga rugby league (where dual capped nationality was introduced). I have no doubts that the same impact would happen with rugby union.” 

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'Can he play sevens with the injury toll he has had?' - Bristol question Piutau's Olympic chances

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