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Nathan Hughes' bold Pacific Islands prediction for World Cup 2023

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/The RFU Collection via Getty Imagesges)

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Ex-England back-rower Nathan Hughes has declared himself available to be called up to play at Test level by Fiji. World Rugby have recently altered the eligibility rules governing the international game, permitting players capped by tier-one nations to be able to represent their countries of origin provided there has been a three-year stand-down period. 

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Hughes earned the last of his 22 caps for England in March 2019, so essentially he would now be clear to play for his native Fiji provided World Rugby grants his request. The 30-year-old would like to be considered for selection by Fijian boss Vern Cotter but admits there is a lot of competition for places, especially with the Drua enjoying its first season in Super Rugby Pacific.   

Hughes was 16 when he left Fiji for the first time, flying to New Zealand for a two-year scholarship at Kelston Boys’ High School in Auckland. That led to his post-school involvement with the Auckland NPC team before he took up a 2013 offer to join Wasps in the English Premiership. 

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Nathan Hughes – A Fijian Ferrari, Bronco Tests and Playing for England | RugbyPass Offload | EP 29
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Nathan Hughes – A Fijian Ferrari, Bronco Tests and Playing for England | RugbyPass Offload | EP 29

He then qualified under the three-year residency rule to play for Eddie Jones’ England but having not been selected since the 2019 Six Nations, he is one of numerous Pacific Islands players poised to take advantage of the new World Rugby Test level eligibility criteria that now permits players to play for their homeland despite being previously capped elsewhere. 

“Yes,” replied Hughes when asked on the latest episode of RugbyPass Offload if he wanted to play for Fiji after representing England from 2016 through to 2019 across three autumn series campaigns, three Six Nations and two summer tours.

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“That is why I was behind this whole change. You have different young players coming up in England and stuff like that and it is good to see, and if we can get the opportunity to go and play for our place of birth I’ll definitely put up my hand but at the same time, there is a lot of competition in Fiji as well. This team the Drua, it’s amazing to see. There is so much talent in Fiji and the thing that surprises people, Ben Ryan put it in his documentary when he went to Fiji to pick a sevens team for the Olympics.

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“He picked a team and they got beaten in the local comp there. He was like, ‘Where do all these people come from, the bushes, the interior in Fiji? The national team is losing to local teams’. There is so much talent in Fiji but the pathway (wasn’t there) to get out of Fiji. It’s nice to see the Drua come in now and it’s nice to see the boys can come through.”

Going back and playing for their country of origin is a conversation that Hughes explained he has had with numerous people. “I talk to a lot of boys. There are a few at Bristol. You have got Charles (Piutau), Stevie (Luatua), Roko at Bath [Semesa Rokoduguni] and I think Billy and Mako (Vunipola) as well. 

“We have these chats and everyone is fully supporting that because imagine if all these people go back and play for their home nation how good the Pacific teams would be. It’s scary to see Tonga’s backline. You have (Ngani) Laumape at twelve, Malakai Fekitoa at 13, Charles, Israel Folau, these are world-class players who played for tier-one nations and for the pathway to be open for them to go and play for Tonga, the Pacific Island teams are going to push the tier-one nations in the World Cup.”

The Bristol No8 Hughes, who is currently on loan at Bath and linked with a switch to Clermont next season, only started playing rugby at the age of 16 as he was into hockey prior to that and it was after a short few years playing that his career was at a crossroads – to stay in the academy at Auckland or take up an offer in England.

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“There were only four years of playing rugby and they [Auckland] said, ‘We will give you one more year in the academy’. My agent said there is an opportunity at Wasps or Bath. I didn’t play eight, I only played six and lock and I’d no clue about playing eight. They were like, ‘Wasps wants an eight, Bath wants a six/eight’. I was alright, ‘I will play eight so I went back and played club rugby at eight, I played one game I think and then flew to the UK, came to Wasps and the rest is history. I never played six or lock ever again.”

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