England loosehead Mako Vunipola has stated he would turn down the opportunity to play for Tonga if eligibility rules were changed to enable tier one players to finish out their careers playing for the island of their birth. 

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A huge focus has been placed on rugby in the Pacific this week following the release of Oceans Apart: Greed, Betrayal and Pacific Island Rugby, a documentary that highlights the exploitation of players from Fiji, Samoa and the Pacific Islands.

Produced by former Samoa forward Dan Leo, the CEO of Pacific Rugby Players Welfare, it highlights a number of issues including the plundering by richer nations of the Islands’ vast playing resources and their reluctance to tour those countries or share gate receipts from home games.

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World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont has proposed that players from Pacific Islands should be permitted to represent their nation of birth once ‘captured’ by tier-one heavyweights as a way to help redress the balance.

But Vunipola, who has Tongan heritage, sees Beaumont’s idea as an imperfect solution. 

“I’d love to say yes to that, but it’s difficult also because it would be unfair to those back on the island, to see myself being an old man coming in and taking that opportunity away from them,” said the 29-year-old Vunipola who has 61 England caps. 

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“As a Tongan, all I want really for the Islanders is a better opportunity for all of them and a better life. If that means I can help with that then I’ll try my best.

“There’s a lot of people like myself who go overseas to try and find a better life and provide for people back home so you can’t take that away from them, that opportunity of playing for someone else, representing a different country.

“But I also feel for those who need an opportunity just to get themselves on to the international stage and getting themselves a better chance. It’s a catch-22 really.”

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