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Charles Piutau and Israel Folau could both return for Tonga

By ILIESA TORA

Nuku’alofa – November 25, 2021: 10.30am (Nuku’alofa Times): Awesome and massive news.

These were initial reactions from two well known Tongan rugby personalities following World Rugby’s approval of player eligibility rules that will now allow international player transfer from one union to another, during a meeting in Dublin, Ireland on Wednesday.

“Its very good news. Oceania Rugby have been a very big help on this,” Tonga Rugby Union Board member ‘Aisea Aholelei said.

“The united front from New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific nations have been huge. It’s a step in the right direction but it is up to the unions to utilize the opportunity for the betterment of their respective teams.”

Former Ikale Tahi captain Inoke Afeaki said the ruling was massive.

“Massive thank you to all the Stakeholders that helped push this eligiblity change, and for World Rugby for listening and acting,” he said in his Facebook page.

Star players like former All Blacks Charles Piutau and former Wallaby Israel Folau can now both play for Tonga, as both would have met the three year stand-down rule.

Former Wallaby Israel Folau is available to play for Tonga. Photo: AAP

That would augur well with the Ikale Tahi’s campaign at the 2023 Rugby World Cup, if they beat Hong Kong in the qualifiers next year.

Others who have already qualified for Tonga are former All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa, who played alongside Piutau for New Zealand, and former Wallaby Lopeti Timani.

Fekitoa and Timani both played for Tonga 7s at the Olympics qualifier earlier this year and Timani featured in the Ikale Tahi squad on the recent Europe Tour.

Another former Wallaby Sokope Kupu also qualifies for Tonga under the new rule change.

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said the approval of this landmark regulatory change is the culmination of detailed and widespread modelling and consultation across the game.

“We have listened to our membership and players and sought to update the regulation recognising the modern professional rugby environment without compromising the integrity of the international game,” he said.

“Any player who wishes to transfer will need to have a close and credible link to their new union, namely birth right or parent or grandparent birth right while meeting strong criteria, including a 36 month stand down period.

“We believe that this is the fairest way to implement progressive change that puts players first while also having the potential to support a growing, increasingly competitive international men’s and women’s game.”

World Rugby Vice-Chairman Bernard Laporte added that World Rugby has listened and acted.

“We have listened to our membership and honoured our pledge to undertake wide-ranging review of this important regulation,” he said.

“We have consulted, sought feedback from our unions, regions and most importantly to players’ representatives, before making a recommendation to the Council. This change to how international rugby operates will provide transformational opportunities to players with dual backgrounds, providing they meet the key criteria sets out in the Regulation 8.”

The World Rugby Council approved an amendment to the sport’s regulations governing national team representation that will now permit an international player to transfer once from one union to another, subject to demonstrating a close and credible link to that union via birth right.

From 1 January 2022, in order to transfer from one union to another under the revised Regulation 8 (eligibility), a player will need to achieve the below criteria:

• The player must stand-down from international rugby for 36 months
• The player must either be born in the country to which they wish to transfer or have a parent or
grandparent born in that country.
• Under the revised Regulation 8 criteria, a player may only change union once and each case will be subject to approval by the World Rugby Regulations Committee to preserve integrity.

After 1 January 2022, any player who meets the above criteria can apply immediately for a transfer.

The Regulation 8 revisions will also align the “age of majority” across Fifteens and Sevens. All players will now be ‘captured’ at 18 years of age to simplify the Regulation and improve Union understanding and compliance.

That means any player that plays for a national Under-18 team rather than his or her own country will also be governed by the new rule.

Approval of the amended regulation follows requests by emerging nations and a subsequent wide-ranging consultation process with member unions, regions and International Rugby Players examining the possibility of amending the principle within Regulation that stipulates that a player may only represent one union at international level, save for specific circumstances relating to participation in the Olympic Games.

The benefits of the amendment include:

• Simplicity and alignment: transfers are currently permitted in the context of participation in the Olympics in the Sevens game. This amendment will create one aligned, simplified process across the game.
• Development of Emerging Nations: the player depth of emerging nations may be improved by permitting players, who have close and credible links to the “Emerging Union” through birth or
ancestry, to “return” to those Unions having previously represented another Union.
• Player-focused approach: the process recognised the modern rugby environment, including global player movement, the current ability to capture players by selecting them on the bench, and the desire of some players to transfer having been selected a limited number of times for one union. It also examined the impact of any change on the integrity of the international competition landscape.

 

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