Tonga international says All Black brother is 'keen' on test rugby switch
The All Blacks may be set to lose a player to Tonga, possibly before next year’s World Cup, in the wake of World Rugby’s new eligibility laws.
The game’s global governing body voted to overhaul its one-nation-per-player policy late last year, enabling test-capped players to switch from one country to another after a three-year stand down period, provided they qualify for another nation via birthright.
Since the change in ruling, which came into effect on January 1, numerous players have become available to switch international allegiance, while many others will be able to do so later this year.
One of those players is All Blacks prop Atu Moli, who played the last of his four tests in New Zealand’s 2019 World Cup bronze final victory over Wales.
Injury has since plagued the 26-year-old, who can play on either side of the scrum, which has prevented him from taking to the field for the All Blacks over the past two seasons.
Should he miss selection for the All Blacks again this year, Moli will become eligible to play for Tonga from November 1, exactly three years to the day of his last test appearance, which falls just before the November test window.
That’s a prospect that excites Moli’s younger brother Sam, the three-test Tonga and Moana Pasifika hooker who made his international debut for the ‘Ikale Tahi against the All Blacks last July.
The younger Moli brother told RugbyPass on Wednesday that Atu is eager to represent his nation of heritage and said it would be “pretty cool” to line up alongside the Chiefs front rower at next year’s World Cup in France.
“I think it would be awesome to see that,” Sam, who is preparing to embark on his maiden Super Rugby campaign, said.
“I think my dad’s wanting us to play for our countries and I think he did kind of talk to me about it. He [Atu] just wants to see where his All Blacks career will take him, but I think he’s pretty keen to come over to Tonga.
“It’d be pretty cool to play with him at the next Rugby World Cup, if that’s the case.”
If Moli opts to swap the black jersey of New Zealand for the red jersey of Tonga, he would join a large contingent of internationally-capped players from other countries who are interested in playing for the ‘Ikale Tahi.
The Pacific Island nation has already acquired the services of former All Blacks midfielder Malakai Fekitoa and ex-Wallabies utility forward Lopeti Timani.
Others who are eligible to play for Tonga, or will be by the time next year’s World Cup kicks-off, include ex-Wallabies duo Sekope Kepu and Adam Coleman, as well as former All Blacks trio Vaea Fifita, George Moala and Augustine Pulu.
Whether or not such a move will come to fruition for Moli remains to be seen, though, especially considering All Blacks head coach Ian Foster is reportedly interested in his progress during this year’s Super Rugby Pacific campaign.
One of the major criticisms from last year’s All Blacks season was the ineffectiveness of their props, and tight five as a whole, against more physical and skilful opponents from South Africa, Ireland and France.
Standing at 1.89m and 127kg, Moli is renowned for his size, strength and mobility, and may be viewed as a player who could resolve New Zealand’s issues up front.
All Blacks selection would likely be dependent on his fitness, though, as he has endured a horror run of injuries since 2018.
During that time, he has sustained a haematoma, compartment syndrome, chronic hip dysfunction and an elbow injury, all of which has severely limited his game time for the All Blacks, Chiefs and Tasman.
Younger brother Sam told RugbyPass that he hopes Atu stays injury-free throughout the course of the year, which could pave the way for a clash between the siblings when Moana Pasifika face the Chiefs on February 25 and April 15.
“When we found out [the draw], we kind of both laughed and I think it’s come to the point where we might bump heads at some stage, but I’m looking forward to it,” Sam joked.
“I hope he comes back from his injury, but it’d be good to play him.”
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