This RNZ.co.nz story is republished with permission
Former All Black Charles Piutau’s long-held dream of representing Tonga could finally become reality at the upcoming Olympic Sevens qualifier in Monaco.
Players with dual eligibility can switch their international allegiance by participating in Olympic qualifying events provided they had a passport for the second country and have completed a stand down period of three years.
Piutau played the last of his 17 tests for the All Blacks in 2015 and first stated four years ago that he would love to represent his Tongan heritage.
Tonga sevens coach, Tevita Tu’ifua, said after a couple of false starts the signs are promising that a number of former All Blacks and Wallabies stars could pull on the red jersey in June.
“That’s a dream for me, to be able to have that opportunity to be given to those guys who have been playing for the All Blacks or the Wallabies that are based over in Europe, to have the opportunity if they change their mind to make themselves available for the ‘Ikale Tahi, this is the opportunity for them.”
Tonga have had previous success using the Olympic loophole, with Cooper Vuna, Atieli Pakalani and Nafi Tuitivake all switching their allegiance from Australia and New Zealand via the sevens route.
A former Tonga Under 20 representative, Piutau had been set to debut for Tonga at the Oceania Sevens in Fiji two years ago. The Bristol Bears fullback completed all his paperwork but didn’t receive the green light to take the field until a few days before the tournament kicked off.
“It was very short notice that we received a reply from World Rugby – it was on the second day of the tournament week we got the green light from World Rugby,” explained Tonga sevens coach Tevita Tu’ifua.
“So Charles was just too late to come from Europe to Fiji, as you have to play 50 percent of the tournament. This opportunity for this tournament is an opportunity for Charles and even Malakai Fekitoa and the like. There’s quite a few of them that are based up there.”
Former New Zealand sevens player Sam Vaka made it onto the field in Suva and Tu’ifua and hoped European-based stars like Piutau and Fekitoa could follow in his footsteps.
“He arrived in Fiji on the second day of the tournament. He played in more than 50 percent of our games so now he’s eligible so it’s just a dream and I hope that the players we are working on we will be able to change their mind have the opportunity to take it on and to represent our country.”
Players switching their allegience only need to feature in half of a team’s matches at the Olympic qualifying event, and would then be eligible to play for the ‘Ikale Tahi 15-a-side team.
Tevita Tu’ifua played 15 tests for Tonga, representing the kingdom at the 2003 and 2007 Rugby World Cups. The former national sevens star said if a few high profile players can switch their allegiance to Tonga it could lead to a seismic shift in international rugby.
“It will be massive for Tonga: for the people and also for the rugby itself and that’s why I think (former ‘Ikale Tahi coach) Toutai Kefu started the pushing through of the players in the list we are working on,” he said.
“And still behind the scenes Toutai is still pushing through and communicating with the players and hopefully we will get a few numbers and be able to give them the opportunity.”