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Renewed call for eligibility upheaval amid 2025 Lions tour plans

By Alex McLeod

Trending on RugbyPass

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Fresh calls for an upheaval of World Rugby’s eligibility laws have been made following plans for Pacific Island involvement in the 2025 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.

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Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan told the Daily Mail last week that he is eager for Fiji and Tonga to be included in the next Lions tour Down Under.

“People are already excited about it. The Lions is the high point in the calendar but it’s the fans that complete it. We want it to be full blown, with as many of them over here as possible,” McLennan said.

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“We want to anchor it back into what a traditional Lions tour looks like for the fans and the players. We want to deliver competitive games against our teams and we’d also like to bring in countries like Fiji and Tonga.

“We want to boost the marketability of the tour and that’s what a lot of people would love to see.”

Manu Samoa head coach Seilala Mapusua has since told RugbyPass that he is keen for his side get involved in the tour, even though McLennan only name-checked their Pacific Island neighbours.

“It would be awesome to have to Lions play in Samoa and you could make the tour to Australia six tests not just three against the Wallabies,” Mapusua said.

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“I think that could be of real interest to the Lions because it would give them high quality matches before the test series and they would be battled hardened.

“One of the luxuries that the Lions have over other international teams is that time together and the more test matches you play the tighter you become and playing Samoa, Tonga and Fiji would be ideal.

“It is encouraging that we are being mentioned in these kind of plans but I would be more encouraged if we were having conversations with other unions rather than just mentions when ideas are put forward.

“As the Pacific Islands rugby nations we get mentioned quite a bit but it still remains to be seen if that leads to us actually being included.

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“We want those conversations to become meaningful for the future of our nations and I would be a massive supporter of making the Lions tour idea work.”

Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Maori All Blacks and Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall said fixtures between the Lions and Fiji, Samoa and Tonga would be “great” for the all the involved parties.

However, the 29-year-old, who faced the Lions while playing for the Crusaders during their 2017 tour of New Zealand, said the Pasifika nations should have the services of their best players for “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.

“I think it’s great. I think to get an opportunity to play against a team like that, it’s only going to add to those nations,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“I guess the learnings from the series that just went, you want the best players to be available for that.

“We’ve talked around the laws around possibly the tier two nations getting the opportunities to get their big players back and play.

“The likes of [Charles] Piutau, [Steven] Luatua, [Charlie] Faumuina, those kind of players that aren’t getting the opportunity to play in that kind of scene because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do that.

“So, I think [they should be available for selection] to add depth to those nations so they’re competitive and a good representation of Pacific Island rugby.”

Hall’s comments come after World Rugby’s eligibility rules were at the forefront of media spotlight last month when the All Blacks played tests against Tonga and Fiji.

As it stands, players who have been capped by one nation are ineligible to play for another country they would otherwise be qualified to play for.

The only way test-capped players can switch international allegiances is if they undergo a three-year stand down period and play sevens for their second nation at the Olympics or in an Olympic qualification tournament.

Former All Blacks Sevens star Tim Nanai-Williams, ex-All Blacks midfielder Malakai Fekitoa and former Wallabies loose forward Lopeti Timani are among a handful of players who have utilised this loophole to become eligible for Samoa and Tonga.

However, there remains a large number of players who have played test rugby for tier one nations but haven’t played internationally for at least three years and would be eligible to play for Pacific Island nations if they went down the sevens pathway.

That has proven to be tricky for professional players, though, and ‘Ikale Tahi head coach Toutai Kefu called for more leniency from World Rugby in that respect after Tonga were trounced 102-0 by the All Blacks at Mt Smart Stadium last month.

“The biggest quick fix would probably just be to get access to our better players,” Kefu, who is recovering after receiving stab wounds during a home invasion on Monday, said after that test.

“It’d help a lot. There’s a few players there who are ready to be capped, it’s just all about the timing.

“I certainly believe there should be a stand down period. My opinion is that extra hoop that they have to jump through, in terms of playing sevens, is probably just a layer of complication that we don’t need.

“I’m just happy with a three or four-year stand down. It’d suit us a lot. If that’s possible, our team transforms.”

Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:

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Renewed call for eligibility upheaval amid 2025 Lions tour plans

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