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Rugby World Cup: Birthright rule could revolutionise tournament as Tonga and Samoa feel benefit

Rugby World Cup: Birthright rule could revolutionise tournament as Tonga and Samoa feel benefit

World Rugby’s heritage rule could revolutionise this tournament.

The birthright eligibility clause could narrow the gap between first- and second-tier nations, with this being the first World Cup under the rule change that allows capped players to switch allegiance to another Test side, after a three-year stand-down.

A capped player can now switch to a national side of a country where either they, their parents or grandparents were born, after a three-year stand-down.

The move is designed to stop New Zealand, Australia and even European teams draining the talent pool of less wealthy nations, notably the Pacific Islands. The All Blacks and the Wallabies have been notorious for capturing players with one or two caps, to stop them representing the Pacific nation of their family heritage.

The practice robbed Test rugby of global superstars across every era, but now provided players are ready to stand down for three years, then switching allegiance is a genuine option. The cast of rich talents who have already availed of the rule and will feature at this World Cup tells its own compelling story.

Tonga have former All Blacks Charles Piutau, Vaea Fifita, Malakai Fekitoa, Augustine Pulu and George Moala in a significant boost to their squad.

Tau Koloamatangi is now available, having represented New Zealand Under-20s, with Pita Ahki also switching, the Toulouse star having turned out for New Zealand Sevens.

Former All Black Malakai Fekitoa is now playing for Tonga thanks to the new birthright rule (AFP via Getty Images)
Former All Black Malakai Fekitoa is now playing for Tonga thanks to the new birthright rule (AFP via Getty Images)

Former Wallabies lock Adam Coleman is another top operator to have added to coach Toutai Kefu’s squad. Charlie Faumuina won 50 caps for New Zealand between 2012 and 2017, and was part of the World Cup-winning squad in 2015.

The 36-year-old has been out of Test rugby for six years, but will now feature in the World Cup with Samoa. Lima Sopoaga and Steven Luatua are further converted All Blacks, while Ben Lam and Fritz Lee were previously captured by playing Sevens for New Zealand.

Christian Leali’ifano has made the switch from Australia, and few will begrudge the popular playmaker a return to the Test stage after his successful battle to beat leukaemia in 2016.

England will face Samoa in their final pool match, and prop Kyle Sinckler is in no doubts about the threat that lies in wait.

“The Pacific Islands teams are no joke, especially with the new rules,” said Sinckler. “I was looking at the Samoa team recently, Jesus Christ! It’s the real deal all the time, and that’s why it’s called Test rugby.”