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Five players in line for a change in national allegiance in 2024

By Ned Lester
(Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images)

World Rugby’s change in eligibility laws in 2022 has opened the door for players with mixed heritage to represent more than one side of their family tree, and every year more players become eligible for a change of national representation.

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The stand-down period is four years, so players who last played international rugby in 2020 will be free to offer their services to other nations they qualify for in 2024.

That opens the door for some of the island nations, in particular, to welcome some global superstars into their ranks.

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Tonga assembled an Avengers-esque cast in 2023, but we have yet to see the heights within reach of the teams once the influence of their newcomers is fully realised, and chemistry is built.

Here are five players who could feature in new national colours in 2024 come the international season.

Julian Savea: Samoa

The Bus is on the move; the former All Blacks star and the man responsible for every French nightmare in 2015 has moved on from the Hurricanes and will suit up for Moana Pasifika in 2024’s Super Rugby Pacific season. Could a change in national allegiance also be on the cards for the 33-year-old?

Savea’s form has naturally declined over recent years but there’s no denying his strength is still very much of game-breaking quality, and the connection with new Moana coach Tana Umaga – who also acts as Manu Samoa assistant – should not be overlooked.

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Umaga joked with The Breakdown ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup that he would be recruiting Manu Samoa players to Moana, and it’s most likely he would look to build that bridge with two lanes.

Having donned the black jersey for the last time in 2017, Savea is comfortably eligible to suit up for his parents’ nation of birth, Samoa, within the World Rugby laws.

Savea could join a cast that included Lima Sopoaga, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Lam and Steven Luatua in 2023.

Ngani Laumape: Tonga 

Another Wellington representative, Laumape’s last outing for the All Blacks was in 2020, meaning he was unable to join Tonga’s all-star cast at the 2023 Rugby World Cup, but would be eligible to make his debut in 2024.

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With names like Charles Piatau, George Moala, Ben Tameifuna and Israel Folau already on deck, Laumape’s inclusion in the ‘Ikale Tahi squad would make them even more of a threat and a real draw card for any End of Year Tour matchups that come the team’s way.

Since leaving New Zealand in 2021, Laumape has had the benefit of club experience in France with Stade Francais and in Japan with the Kobelco Kobe Steelers. The midfielder has enjoyed coaching from Wayne Smith and Dave Rennie while with the Steelers and currently has the likes of Brodie Retallick and Ardie Savea in camp for the 2023-24 season.

Tawera Kerr-Barlow: Australia 

A short-lived campaign from Kerr-Barlow expressing his interest in a Wallabies call-up when the laws changed ultimately found little traction, but Australia are on the cusp of a new era ahead of a home World Cup and what better way to prepare for that than with some World Cup winning experience in camp?

Kerr-Barlow came off the bench in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final in which the All Blacks handed the Wallabies the silver medal.

While Kerr-Barlow didn’t benefit from it, Eddie Jones’ selections for the Wallabies in 2023 appeared to say to hell with Rugby Australia’s eligibility laws, as the recently unveiled Japan coach invited seven overseas-based players into camp.

TKB’s La Rochelle teammate, Will Skelton, would end up being named captain of the Wallabies in their World Cup campaign, and 2024 could see Rugby Australia make some decisive calls on how they are going to return to glory for the Lions tour in 2025.

While the 27-time All Black has found some career form over recent seasons in the Top 14, his presence in the Wallabies squad may be worthwhile as another mentor for young Tate McDermott, who promises to be the future of the No 9 jersey and a potential Wallabies captain.

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Brad Shields: New Zealand

It took a while for the All Blacks to nail the blindside flanker position under Ian Foster, but all that hard work will remain in the past while Shannon Frizell is in Japan for two years.

Ethan Blackadder and youngster Samipeni Finau have a chance to make the jersey their own, but with the former’s injury-prone history and the latter’s lack of experience, there may be room for a veteran presence in the squad.

Shields made nine appearances for England in 2018 and ’19, making him eligible for international duties once more with New Zealand, should he earn a call-up in his return season with the Hurricanes.

Shields has the benefit of international experience but was just 26 when he set off for the promise of higher honours at Twickenham. Now 32, the flanker will put his body to the test in 2024.

Timoci Tavatavanawai: New Zealand

A former Fiji U20 representative, Tavatavanawai has proven to be one of Super Rugby Pacific’s most prolific runners and his move from Moana Pasifika to the Highlanders may well signal his intent to be considered for a black jersey.

Finishing the 2023 season with the second most tackle breaks behind the Blues’ Mark Tele’a, the 110kg winger was bruising throughout his debut seasons in Super Rugby.

While he previously made the Crusaders’ wider training squad, he is yet to find new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson’s favour. But, that could all change if the Highlanders are to employ him in a crash-and-bash gain line role that gets the best out of the 25-year-old.

With the departure of Leicester Fainga’anuku, there is room for a wrecking ball in the All Blacks squad, but can “Big Jim” prove he’s more than that?

Honourable mentions

– Peter Umaga-Jensen: Samoa
– Josh Ioane: Samoa
– Atu Moli: Tonga
– Nehe Milner-Skudder: Tonga
– Waisake Naholo: Fiji

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Comments

12 Comments
J
John 154 days ago

Surprise! NZ swapping players with the Pacific Islands…aka business as usual

A
Azmaori 156 days ago

Unbelievable that the AB’s didn’t encourage Ngani Laumape to remain available.
Since Ma and SBW, he is the only one with the ability to penetrate, as well as knock people over on attack or defense.

R
Rodrigo 157 days ago

This eligibility law sucks. It is unfair and destroys the concept of national teams. Once someone chooses to represent a country, it shouldn't be so easy to change for another, otherwise everything would be equated to playing for a simple club... Pacific Barbarians?

J
Jmann 157 days ago

an utterly absurd rule

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