International rugby could be about to go through its biggest shake-up for some time after a change in eligibility laws mean a number of ex-New Zealand internationals could soon be playing for the likes of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
With rugby set to arrive at the summer Olympics at Rio 2016, a ruling now means that players can represent a second country providing they hold a passport for that nation and have not played for their current side for at least 18 months.
New Zealand publication tvnz.co.nz is reporting that ex-internationals have already agreed to represent the Pacific Islands at next year’s World Cup, due to be held in England, while more could be eying the switch with 14 months to go until England get the tournament underway against Fiji.
As long as players haven’t represented their country for the past 18 months, they can participate in either the Sevens World Series or a designated Regional Olympic Qualification Tournament, which would then result in them becoming fully eligible for all forms of rugby for that country.
According to ONE News, Names that have already agreed to the turn out for Tonga include former New Zealand internationals Anthony Tuitavake and Sam Tuitupou, while Australian Test players Mark Gerrard and Sitaleki Timani has also given the move the thumbs up.
The All Blacks sevens stars Alando Soakai, Lifeimi Mafi and Roy Kinikinilau will also be part of the switch, while the Waikato Chiefs centre Tim Nanai-Williams, cousin of Sonny Bill Williams, has announced his desire to play for Samoa after being overlooked by the Kiwis.
World Cup winner Isaia Toeava has also been contacted by Samoan officials according to the tvnz.co.nw report, but he is yet to comment on the situation.
Australian great George Smith is also on Tonga’s target list given that his mother hails from the Pacific Island, as is Chief’s prop Ben Tameifuna.
“So far it's been very positive from every single player so we're quite chuffed about the response we've had so far,” said Tongan Rugby Union chairman Epi Taione.
“It's the biggest positive news in my time as a player and now as an administrator for Tonga.
"We have been close but rugby is moving and we have to be on our toes and change with the times.
"These guys being available for us is huge news for Tongan rugby.”
Tuitavake added: “Since hearing about this loophole that the IRB has made, us ex-New Zealand players that are playing abroad are very keen to switch.”
Other potential options for Samoa include leading names Casey Laulala, Chris Masoe, Lelia Masaga and Mose Tuiali'I, while Fiji could look to lure former All Black wingers and cousins Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu into the national team to face the English.