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All Blacks-Capped Winger Charles Piutau ‘Determined’ To Play For Tonga

Ulster Rugby v Exeter Chiefs - European Rugby Champions Cup

Former All Black Charles Piutau has revealed to Tonga Head Coach Toutai Kefu his intentions to represent Tonga at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Currently plying his trade in Ulster, the flying full-back earned 16 Test caps for New Zealand between 2013 and 2015 but was unexpectedly dropped for the last World Cup squad after declaring his intentions to move to the Irish province.

This is worrying news for England as they share a World Cup pool with Tonga, and after a stint in the Aviva Premiership with Wasps, fans and opponents alike are fully aware the danger he poses.

The 26-year-old is set to become world rugby’s highest-paid player when he switches to English club Bristol next season, where big brother and Tonga captain Siale Piutau is currently lighting up the Championship.

Ulster Rugby v Exeter Chiefs - European Rugby Champions Cup

A prodigious talent at an early age in Auckland he has worn the famous red jersey before when representing Tonga under-20s.

Tonga head coach Toutai Kefu spoke to a radio station in New Zealand and revealed that plans are already in place

“I’ve spoken to him a few times and his brother as well – he’s very determined to play for Tonga so we’re very happy about that.

“Pat Lam really understands our plight and understands that these Pacific Islander players are very keen to play for their country whenever possible.”

With a multitude of Pacific Island stars currently on the books at Bristol, including Tusi Pisi, Alapati Leiua, Soane Tonga’uiha and Sione Faletau, it is clear to see that Pat Lam, himself a great of Pacific islands rugby with Samoa is open to the idea.

With Piutau joining a club and coach that had the interests of Pacific Island players at heart, this makes the sensational idea heavily plausible.

However, this dramatic recruitment programme set to attempt to boost the poor results of the national team doesn’t seem to be set to end with Charles Piutau, with Kefu hoping to lure more superstars to bolster his squad.

Kefu said:

“There’s a winger in France now by the name of Frank Halai, who’s had also a cap for the All Blacks. He’s a player we’re very much interested in and he’s a player that’s very much interested in coming to play for us.”

“There’s also some ex Wallabies: Sitaleki Timani and Anthony Fainga’a – there’s a few more as well but that’s just the few names that scratch the surface.”

This ability to switch allegiance has long been disputed and argued about in World Rugby, and for many years was not allowed. However, after the dramatic inclusion of Rugby Sevens as an Olympic Sport the requirements to switch allegiance have been relaxed due to the fluid representative system in place.

The new rules stipulate that players who have represented one country’s national 15-a-side team, A team or senior sevens side can shift commitment to another nation, on condition that they held a passport for the newly adopted national side and have been in exile from the first national side for a minimum of three years.

This is in clear concordance to the Olympic Committees representative regulations.

However, a barrier in the system is that the first time a player represents their new union or country must be in an Olympic event, which can include Olympic qualifying tournaments and the 2018/19 World Series.

While for most of the nations this is not a problem due to the Sevens World Series this is a major complication for Tonga, as they are not a Tier 1 nation and do not play on the circuit, this was reiterated by Kefu when he said.

“Tonga aren’t on the main (World Sevens) series so our tournaments would have to come through the Oceania sevens qualifying tournaments, which at this stage we’re not quite sure where they’re going to be held at.”

GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 19: The Tonga team perform a Haka ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool C match between Tonga and Georgia at Kingsholm Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Gloucester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)

“They just have to play two tournaments I think…they just have to be Olympic qualifying tournaments.

“There’s a tournament in the World Cup year [2019] that we still need to find out the minor details of that with Oceania [Rugby], but there’s a tournament that we may be able to qualify them in around June or July of World Cup year.”

While Charles Piutau is unlikely to be running out anytime soon for the Tonga national side due to his exile period not running out until the summer of 2018, this is an exciting proposition for world rugby.

For many years now, the Pacific Island sides have been ravaged by Tier 1 nations poaching talent this new system will allow world class players such as Piutau to light up the international stage once more.

Aled Price, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.