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'I'm hoping, for Samoa's sake, that he puts his hand up': Lealiifano wanted by Samoan star

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Former Wallabies first-five Christian Lealiifano has been called on by a Manu Samoa star to make himself available for the Pacific Island nation in test rugby.

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A veteran of 26 tests for the Wallabies, Lealiifano’s test career ended three years ago after Australia were knocked out of the 2019 World Cup by England.

Since then, the 34-year-old hasn’t been called upon by Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie, who has instead opted for a first-five contingent of Quade Cooper, James O’Connor and Noah Lolesio since taking charge of Australia in 2020.

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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 14
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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 14

However, Lealiifano’s services may still be of use for Manu Samoa, who he will soon be free to play for following World Rugby’s change of eligibility laws.

As of January 1, test-capped players who have stood down from international rugby for three years have been eligible to play for a second nation if they, their parents or their grandparents were born in that country.

Of Samoan descent, Lealiifano – who was born in New Zealand – will become qualified to play for Samoa from October 19, exactly three years to the day after his final outing for the Wallabies.

That means he could play for his nation of heritage in the November test window, as well as at next year’s World Cup in France.

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Lealiifano’s addition to the Samoan squad would provide Seilala Mapusua’s team with vast experience, leadership and playmaking quality.

All of those traits have been on show whenever Lealiifano has taken to the field for new Super Rugby Pacific franchise Moana Pasifika this season.

It’s for that reason that his teammate and Manu Samoa midfielder Henry Taefu is keen to see him, and his halves partner Ereatara Enari, switch eligibility under World Rugby’s new laws.

“Our team gets named soon, I don’t know who’s in it,” Taefu said when asked on Wednesday which of his uncapped Moana Pasifika teammates he would like to see picked for Manu Samoa.

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“But I’d like to see guys like Ere Enari, hopefully he joins us. Christian, he’s been playing really well. He’s someone that we can have in our team and add that experience.

“There’s a lot of guys in our team who can definitely be there. Hopefully they get the chance and shine on the international stage.”

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Taefu wouldn’t be draw on whether Lealiifano has expressed an interest in playing for Samoa at test level, but was hopeful that the experienced pivot will do so.

“Obviously he’s been out for a while, but I think he’s someone that’s very passionate about being Samoan and passionate about being Pasifika, so I’m hoping, for Samoa’s sake, that he puts his hand up,” Taefu said.

While Lealiifano won’t be eligible to play for Samoa at the recently-announced Pacific Nations Cup in July, his presence in the Samoan national squad at next year’s World Cup would be invaluable.

Grouped in Pool D alongside England, Japan, Argentina and either the USA or Chile, Samoa could prove to be a threatening outfit that will challenge for at least a third-place finish in their group.

That would assure them automatic qualification for the 2027 World Cup, but the prospect of qualifying for their first World Cup quarter-final since 1991 is likely to secure the commitment of numerous high-profile, Samoan-eligible players.

Under World Rugby’s new eligibility laws, the likes of Julian Savea, Victor Vito, Lima Sopoaga, Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, Josh Ioane, Denny Solomona, Joe Tomane, Jeff Toomaga-Allen and Ma’a Nonu could all join Lealiifano in what would be a star-studded Samoa squad.

The presence of those players, and various others, has the potential to also attract uncapped players who may have targeted test rugby for countries like New Zealand and Australia, but may instead opt to throw their lot in with Samoa.

Players who would fit that bill include Hurricanes duo Du’Plessis Kirifi and Salesi Rayasi, as well as Blues utility back Stephen Perofeta, who has been tipped as a potential All Black in the absence of Damian McKenzie.

No confirmation has yet been made as to which former internationals will be picked by Samoa under World Rugby’s new laws, but Mapusua indicated last year that he keen on acquiring Ioane’s services in the wake of the rule change.

Taefu’s comments about Lealiifano as a possible Samoan international come as both he and Moana Pasifika boss Aaron Mauger tipped uncapped wing Timoci Tavatavanawai to star for Fiji after his standout Super Rugby Pacific campaign.

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