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Tonga: Road To Japan

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RugbyPass presents 'Tonga: Road To Japan'

Tonga skipper Siale Piutau has called on World Rugby to review its eligibility rules to enable Pacific Islanders capped by major Test-playing nations to eventually be allowed to play for tier two nations.

Piutau’s younger brother Charles was capped on 17 occasions by the All Blacks, but the 27-year-old has been in the international wilderness since heading to Europe in 2015 to play his club rugby. 

Earning his living away from New Zealand, Piutau has been ineligible the past four years for All Blacks selection. However, the legacy of his 25-month Test career under Steve Hansen means that hasn’t been allowed to link up with his brother and represent the country of their parents together.   

Speaking in the exclusive RugbyPass documentary that went behind the scenes in August as Tonga prepared for the World Cup in Japan, Piutau said: “It is something that frustrates me to see a lot of these kids that have played one, two Tests for tier one nations to be used in that way and then go overseas and not get to represent any other nation. 

“You look at the other sport of rugby league and the hype that has been created around top players playing for their home nations. A lot of younger players growing up once thought of playing rugby league for New Zealand and now they want to play for Tonga.”

(Continue reading below…)

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RugbyPass spent a week with the Tongans in the run-up to their World Cup campaign, beginning in Nuku’alofa where they played Western Force and then following them to Auckland where they took on Pacific Island rivals Fiji at Eden Park.  

What unfolded was a stark insight into how a country with the smallest population and the smallest budget of the 20 World Cup finalists has fought against the odds in preparing to face England, France and Argentina at the 2019 tournament in Japan.

Coach Toutai Kefu, the 1999 World Cup winner with Australia, has nothing but the utmost admiration for the resolve of his players despite the huge shortfall in resources compared to their Pool C tier one rivals.  

“It does frustrate me and it annoys me but I try and keep that to myself. Having that situation occur quite regularly builds a certain amount of resilience within the group and these boys are fantastic. They encounter obstacles all the time and they are able to put that aside and keep pushing forward.”

WATCH: The RugbyPass Lego World Cup 

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RugbyPass presents 'Tonga: Road To Japan'