Former All Blacks star Malakai Fekitoa switches international allegiance to represent Tonga
Players are eligible to represent a second country in an Olympic qualifying event after they have already played for another nation provided they hold a passport for their second country and have stood down from international rugby for three years.
Fekitoa, who was born in Tonga and only moved to New Zealand when he was 17, is eligible to play sevens for Tonga under this ruling given that he played the last of his 24 tests for the All Blacks against the British and Irish Lions in 2017.
Should he play in at least 50 percent of Tonga’s matches at the Olympic qualification event, Fekitoa will then become eligible to play test rugby for the ‘Ikale Tahi.
However, a potential test debut against the All Blacks at Mt Smart Stadium next month has been ruled out as New Zealand’s quarantine restrictions means Fekitoa will be unavailable for Tonga’s July test series.
In the meantime, Fekitoa’s inclusion in the national sevens squad will be a significant boost for Tonga’s Olympic prospects.
Next weekend’s tournament acts as the last chance for teams to qualify for next month’s Tokyo Olympics, with only one place up for grabs in Monaco.
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Pooled alongside Samoa, Ireland, Zimbabwe and Mexico, Tonga will need to finish in the top two in their group to qualify for the semi-finals where they could face any one of France, Hong Kong, Chile, Uganda and Jamaica.
The winner of the final will book the last available place at the Games in the Japanese capital, and Fekitoa’s presence in the Tongan squad could go some way to making that dream a reality.
Fekitoa isn’t the first player to have utilised the Olympic loophole to switch international allegiance.
Ex-Wallabies wing Cooper Vuna and former New Zealand and Australian sevens representatives Atieli Pakalani, Nafi Tuitivake and Sam Vaka have all used the loophole to become eligible to play for Tonga, as has ex-All Blacks Sevens star and current Manu Samoa playmaker Tim Nanai-Williams.
Meanwhile, RNZ reports that former two-test All Blacks halfback Augustine Pulu had also voiced his interest in switching his allegiance from New Zealand to Tonga, but failed to complete the required paperwork in time.
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