World Rugby to vote on easing rules on player Test team switches

Malakai Fekitoa played in the 2017 Test series for New Zealand against the British Lions and Irish Lions. He was also a qualifier for Tonga having qualified in the summer for Olympic Sevens.
If World Rugby votes to make revolutionary changes to eligibility rules later in the month, international players will be allowed to change their nationality.

The new proposals will allow players to represent the country where they were born or the country their ancestors were born after a three year stand-down.

Charles Piutau, All Blacks' superstar, could be representing Tonga in the next year. This would be a significant boost for Pacific Island countries before the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The World Rugby council will consider the proposals at its next meeting, 24 November. A 75% majority (or 39 of 52 votes) is required to allow the ruling to be passed.

What are the current rules?

The current rules state that a player can be "captured" if they win a senior cap. A nation's 2nd and 7th XVs can also capture players from outside-link. They are then tied to the country and cannot play for another.

The inclusion of rugby sevens in the Olympic Games has created an eligibility loophole. Malakai Fekitoa, a former All Blacks centre, is an example of someone who successfully changed his nationality after representing Tonga at Olympic qualifying events.

Fekitoa, who has won 24 New Zealand caps in the span of 2014 to 2017, and played against the British Lions and Irish Lions, was eligible to become a citizen of the country he was born earlier this year. If not for injury, he would have been playing Saturday for Tonga against England.

Other players have had difficulty securing release from club employers. The prospect of playing sevens is geared towards the backs, rather than tight-five forwards. These are the locks, hooker, and props, who are usually the largest and most heaviest members on the team.

What are you proposing?

The new plans allow players to switch their nationality if they haven't played international rugby in the last three years.

They can change their nationality if they have a "close, credible connection" to another country. This could be through their birth or the birthplaces of grandparents or parents. Only one player could switch during their career.

It would theoretically mean that players such as Mako and Billy Vunipola could play for Tonga through their father if England doesn't cap them between now and 2024. However, Billy Vunipola last season ruled out this possibility. External-link

Nathan Hughes (right) made his second England appearance in the match against Fiji, his home country, in 2016.

Nathan Hughes, a Fijian-born Bristol number 8, would be eligible to move to his home country in 2022.

The Pacific Island countries are likely to support the changes, particularly given the high percentage of Pacific Island ancestry players representing other nations. However, concerns remain about the potential unintended consequences of allowing players switch and the discrimination it might cause against Tier Two countries whose systems are based on home-grown players.

World Rugby has already increased the period of residency from three to five years. This ruling will take effect on 31 December 2021.