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The most exciting prospect to potentially play for another country under the new laws

By RugbyPass
(Photo by Juan Gasparini/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images/Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images/Malcolm Couzens/ Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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The RugbyPass Round Table writers answer the big questions at the end of 2021, looking back at the year that was in context to what lays ahead. Alex McLeod (AM), Tom Vinicombe (TV), Nick Turnbull (NT), Mike Rehu (MR), Ben Smith (BS), Jordan King (JK), Jack O’Rourke (JO) and Finn Morton (FM) weigh in on a range of topics on the international game and more in this end-of-2021 review. 

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World Rugby’s new laws, as of January 1 2022, will bring international rugby into a new era where players can switch nations, should they have heritage ties to a different country and complete the minimum three-year stand down period.

The laws are expected to be a boon for the Pacific nations of Samoa and Tonga, who could capture the services of some of the game’s most high-profile stars like Charles Piutau and Lima Sopoaga.

There are already many players who qualify under the new rules having not represented their original country for the required stand down period, and 2022 could see some new debuts.

Which player are you most excited about potentially playing for a different country under World Rugby’s new eligibility laws?

BS: Malakai Fekitoa, even though his process of switching to Tonga was complete through the sevens loophole.

At 29-years-old, he still has a lot to give to the international game and hopefully a strong Tongan team can play at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

He is the type of strike centre the All Blacks are missing and could still use. If Tonga capture a host of other former internationals, Fekitoa could shine in a star-studded backline.

AM: There are a number of different players who you could get excited about playing for the Pacific Island nations.

Tonga, for instance, could field a backline featuring Charles Piutau, Israel Folau, Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala and Augustine Pulu, but what gets me going is the fact Samoa could have a world-class trio of No 10s at their disposal come the next World Cup.

Lima Sopoaga is already eligible for Manu Samoa after having last played for the All Blacks in 2017, while Christian Lealiifano and Josh Ioane will become eligible in 2022, provided neither of them play for the Wallabies or All Blacks before September/October.

If they don’t, Manu Samoa will be hugely strengthened by the depth, experience, class and playmaking nous of all three players.

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TV: Israel Folau. Controversy aside, he’s an incredible athlete who could actually make a big difference for Tonga – and there’s probably a greater likelihood of him making the switch than some of the other players locked into big-money contracts.

FM: These new eligibility laws are incredibly exciting for the future of the sport, with the Pacific Islands set to benefit in a big way.

But, of all the stars who could switch allegiances, I’m really excited about the potential of Ngani Laumape playing for Tonga. He’s a player who has starred for both the Hurricanes and All Blacks in years gone by, and isn’t exactly past his prime.

If this ever happens, it’d be great to see – especially considering the players he could be playing alongside.

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MR: It’s a tie between two first five-eighths with Samoan roots. If both Lima Sopoanga and Christian Leiliifano decide to throw their lot in with Samoa for Rugby World Cup 2023, it could be the start of one of rugby’s great stories.

Successful teams are built around 10s that can dictate games, with Samoa’s incredible playing stocks one or both of these two talents will be keys to ignite the flame.

NT: Israel Folau playing Tonga. I don’t wish to re-ignite the issues surrounding his departure from the Australian game but I still believe he is a tremendous talent would love to see him have the ability to show that talent on the world stage once more.

JO: The impact of the new eligibility will be very interesting to watch, and may not help those “tier 2” nations as much as expected. A lot of people have put out their dream XVs for Tonga and Samoa, but we will have to wait and see if those players actually put their hand up to play. Former Wallaby Jack Dempsey is now on the radar for Scotland.

JK: Rugby is a team game, but I’m interested to see how big an impact Charles Piutau can have for Tonga.

He was always a player with great talent whilst plying his trade in Aotearoa and he’s exceeded expectations in his time abroad, but now it’s time to see if he can be the million-dollar man against teams closer to home.

Summary: Ngani Laumape (Tonga), Malakai Fekitoa (Tonga), Lima Sopoaga (Samoa), Christian Leiliifano (Samoa), Josh Ioane (Samoa), Charles Piutau (Tonga), Israel Folau (Tonga).

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