'I'll put my hand up for Tonga': Ngani Laumape eyes test rugby switch
The prospect of Laumape turning out for the ‘Ikale Tahi has been made possible by World Rugby after the game’s global governing body voted for a law change last month that enables test-capped players to represent a second country they are eligible for through birthright following a three-year stand down period.
That change in ruling, which comes into effect in January, means Laumape will become eligible for Tonga, his parents’ homeland, in 2023 – provided he doesn’t make an international comeback with New Zealand before then.
Any chance of Laumape adding to his 15 All Blacks tests over the coming years appears slim, though, given he walked out on New Zealand Rugby earlier this year to sign what is believed to be a three-year deal with French club Stade Francais.
By plying his trade overseas, the 28-year-old has put his test career on hold for the time being as he has become ineligible for All Blacks selection, but he hasn’t ruled out a return to international rugby with his nation of heritage.
“I’ll put my hand up for Tonga. It would be a great opportunity to represent my parents’ country. I’m a proud Tongan so if I was picked I would definitely put my foot forwards,” Laumape said, as per AFP.
“But it’s still a couple of years away for me and I’m focusing on Stade Francais.”
After making it clear in June that he intends to finish his playing career outside of New Zealand, Laumape looks primed to join a raft of other former internationals set to switch allegiance to Tonga.
Former All Blacks midfielder Malakai Fekitoa and ex-Wallabies loose forward Lopeti Timani already made that transition earlier this year, with both players turning out for Tonga at an Olympic Sevens Qualifying Tournament in Monaco six months ago.
Neither player had played for New Zealand or Australia since 2017, thus satisfying the three-year stand down period under World Rugby’s current laws, which stipulate that players can only switch between countries via an Olympic-related sevens competition.
An overhaul of that ruling will soon open the door for many more players to follow suit much more easily, paving the way for the likes of Charles Piutau, Israel Folau, Sekope Kepu, Adam Coleman, Vaea Fifita, George Moala, Augustine Pulu and Atu Moli to play for Tonga.
All eight of those players will either be eligible for Tonga from January 1, or will become eligible over the course of next year as they will have been absent from test rugby for three years.
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Bolstering Tonga’s squad with such star power leaves the ‘Ikale Tahi in good stead for the 2023 World Cup, which they are yet to qualify for, but that may be a tournament that Laumape is forced to miss out on.
Given he last played for the All Blacks in their Bledisloe Cup defeat to the Wallabies in Brisbane on November 7 last year, Laumape’s three-year stand down period won’t be completed until November 7, 2023.
That date falls an agonising nine days after the World Cup final, which means Laumape isn’t likely to play for Tonga until 2024 at the earliest.
By that stage, he will be 31-years-old and three years out from the 2027 World Cup, but you wouldn’t bet against the ex-NRL wing from pushing for a place at that tournament, which is expected to be held in Australia.
However, Laumape claims that he is yet to talk to Tonga’s coaching staff, headed by ex-Wallabies No 8 Toutai Kefu, although one would imagine that will change in the years to come.
Before then, the former Hurricanes powerhouse is intent on driving Stade Francais back up the Top 14 table as the Paris-based side currently languishes in 10th place with five wins from 12 matches thus far this season.
“I’m focusing on Stade Francais,” Laumape said, according to AFP. “I want to perform well, that’s what matters the most.”
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