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Ngani Laumape's message to World Rugby: 'Open up the eligibility rules'

By Sam Smith

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Ngani Laumape is the latest high-profile player to speak out in favour of changes to World Rugby’s eligibility laws and hinted that he would be more than happy to run out wearing the red and white of Ikale Tahi if given the chance.

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Currently, once a player represents a nation at test level, they’re tied to that country for life unless they undergo a convoluted method to switch allegiances involving playing in a number of Olympics sevens qualifying tournaments.

Later this month, World Rugby will vote on whether to change the laws to allow players to change allegiances after sitting out a mandatory stand-down period of three years, provided that the player, their parents or their grandparents were born in the country they are looking to switch allegiances to.

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Jim Hamilton catches up with former Wallabies halfback Will Genia.
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Jim Hamilton catches up with former Wallabies halfback Will Genia.

Responding to a Twitter post from RugbyPass asking ‘Who is the best [No] 12?’ in the Autumn Nations Series, Laumape tagged World Rugby and responded ‘open up the eligibility rules and let’s find out’.

Laumape, who once represented the New Zealand Warriors in the NRL, made his test debut for the All Blacks in 2017. While his form at Super Rugby level was always compelling, the 28-year-old struggled to nail down a spot in the NZ midfield and after clocking up 15 caps over four seasons, made the decision to head overseas.

Laumape now represents Stade Francais in the Top 14, making his debut in September after finishing up the Super Rugby season with the Hurricanes.

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While Laumape wouldn’t be eligible for Tonga immediately, even if the regulations were to change, as he played his most recent test for New Zealand just last year.

However, the wrecking ball of a midfielder’s parents were born in Tonga, which would make Laumape eligible for the Ikale Tahi as soon as a three-year stand-down is completed.

Laumape wouldn’t be available for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, but he would be able to represent Tonga from the beginning of the 2024 season, and which point the specialist No 12 would be 31 years old.

Current All Black Ardie Savea retweeted Laumape’s response, backing his former teammate’s call for World Rugby to change the laws.

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Laumape isn’t the only former international to express interest in playing for the Ikale Tahi in recent times.

Former All Black Malakai Fekitoa has already completed the necessary steps to now represent Tonga on the world stage, although injury has prevented him from suiting up in the red and white jersey this season.

Charles Piutau is another who would likely seriously consider representing his parent’s birth nation, with older brother Siale earning 43 caps for Tonga before retiring following the 2019 World Cup.

This week, Tonga coach Toutai Kefu has also said that former Wallabies fullback Israel Folau is keen to play for the Ikale Tahi.

Piutau last featured for New Zealand in 2015 while Folau’s final game for Australia came in 2018. As such, both players would be immediately eligible to represent Tonga from the date of any law changes.

The Ikale Tahi have endured a tough start to this year’s Autumn Nations Series, suffering heavy defeats to Scotland and England over successive weekends. The team will play two more matches on their end of year tour, against a French Barbarians selection and Romania.

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