Former All Blacks star Charles Piutau is in line to play for Tonga this year, according to a report from RNZ.
Piutau’s long-held dream of playing for the Island nation, which he first revealed four years ago, could become reality in June should he take to the field for Tonga at the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament in Monaco.
Players with dual eligibility who have already bound themselves to one country by representing that nation at XVs or sevens level can switch to their other country of allegiance through a loophole spurred on by rugby’s involvement at the Olympics.
A clash in regulations between World Rugby and the International Olympic Committee allows players to represent their second nation provided they have a passport for that country and have completed a three-year international stand down.
Once the stand down is completed, players must partake in an Olympic event to make themselves eligible for their new nation at all levels.
Piutau played the last of his 17 tests for the All Blacks in 2015 before he took up multiple lucrative deals with European clubs in the Premiership and PRO14.
Having not played test rugby for almost six years, the former Tonga U20 representative is eligible to play for the Tongan sevens team later this year in what will be their last chance at qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.
Should Piutau help secure Tonga with the last remaining qualifying berth for the Olympics, the 29-year-old would then be able to represent the nation at the Games, with the men’s sevens tournament scheduled to take place at the end of July.
Tongan sevens coach Tevita Tu’ifua told RNZ that, with there being no more Olympic qualification tournaments until 2023, the upcoming event in Monaco acts as a prime chance for former All Blacks and Wallabies to become eligible for Tonga.
“That’s a dream for me, to be able to have that opportunity to be given to those guys who have been playing for the All Blacks or the Wallabies that are based over in Europe, to have the opportunity if they change their mind to make themselves available for the ‘Ikale Tahi, this is the opportunity for them.”
Piutau wouldn’t be the first Tongan player to have utilised the Olympic loophole after having already pledged their allegiance to another country.
Former Wallabies wing Cooper Vuna, ex-Australian sevens speedster Atieli Pakalani and one-time All Blacks Sevens player Nafi Tuitavake have all been capped for Tonga, while others from fellow Pacific Island nations have followed suit.
Tim Nanai-Williams, a former playmaker for the All Blacks Sevens side, has become an integral figure for Manu Samoa in XVs game and has played at two World Cups for the nation since debuting for the national sevens side in 2014.
Tu’ifua is hopeful other high-profile stars – he pinpointed former All Blacks midfielder Malakai Fekitoa as one such player – can follow suit to help significantly bolster the standard of the Tongan test side.
“It will be massive for Tonga: for the people and also for the rugby itself and that’s why I think [former ‘Ikale Tahi coach] Toutai Kefu started the pushing through of the players in the list we are working on,” he said.
“And still behind the scenes Toutai is still pushing through and communicating with the players and hopefully we will get a few numbers and be able to give them the opportunity.”
Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now