Former Manu star calls for consistency in the rules
Former Manu Samoa Sevens player, Orene Aii, has hit out at calls that former All Black players should switch to rugby league if they want to represent Samoa, Tonga or Fiji.
In response to a column penned by Duncan Johnstone titled “Rugby must stay deaf to All Black Charles Piutau's pleas to play for Tonga” on Stuff, Aii who has represented Samoa and New Zealand in Secens, said the powers that be need to do what is best for rugby as a sport.
“Duncan Johnstone saying that players should “make a decision and stick to it” when it comes to rugby allegiance,” Aii posted on social media.
“I’ve read a lot of negative comments from people on this issue… yet I don’t see Duncan or these other people writing the same things when coaches jump from country to country for financial gain or for better international coaching opportunities. Graham Henry, Steve Hansen, Eddie Jones, Robbie Deans to name a few all coached different countries.
“Why don’t the same rules apply to them? Why don’t they get the same backlash like the players get when wanting to change allegiance?
“Like the coaches the players want to challenge themselves against the best so why deny them that chance? These players want to give back by strengthening Samoa, Tonga and Fiji rugby and strengthen the competition of rugby across the board.
“I would love to see these boys turn out for their respective countries of heritage. And I hope World Rugby and the powers that be make the best decision for RUGBY and not because they are afraid to lose their funding and ranking status to our small island nations.”
The debate has surfaced following reports that Piutau and Frank Halai both want to represent Tonga at the next Rugby Union World Cup. Their interest comes after Tonga’s huge success at the Rugby League World Cup driven by stars like Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita.
In response to reports about Piutau and Halai, this is what Duncan Johnstone wrote:
“Former All Black Charles Piutau should switch to rugby league if he wants to play for his beloved Tonga.
Piutau's calls for a relaxation in rugby's eligibility rules must fall on deaf ears for the good of the game.
And rugby should also move quickly to tighten the laws that allowed some players to switch countries in the leadup to sevens' Olympics debut in Rio last year.
The last thing rugby needs is a farce like the just completed Rugby League World Cup which is pretty much a free-for-all when it comes to players choosing their countries. Make your choice and stick to it.
Piutai, 26, and Frank Halai are making headlines in the UK over their desire to play for their island homeland, after they've already turned out for New Zealand.
If you believe the talks doing the rounds, even older stars such as Ma'a Nonu, Steven Luatua and Victor Vito are also interested in pulling on different jerseys.
It seems the ease with which Jason Taumalolo was able to choose between the Kiwis and his Tongan league outfit has spiked a debate in the islands footy scene about the injustices involved in rugby representation.
Put aside the emotions of the situation and it's hard to have much time for Piutau's plight, however dedicated he is to trying to wear a red Tongan jersey at the next Rugby World Cup.
This smacks of a player wanting a bit of everything. And Piutau has got plenty.
He knew the rules when he chose to play for New Zealand and turn out 16 times for the All Blacks.
He knew the rules over eligibility, just as he knew of the earning power that All Blacks jersey holds for any star wanting to head offshore.
It helped him to a massive deal at Ulster just as it has led to a new contract with English club Bath, reported to be worth nearly $2m a season.
Some things come at a price and for Piutau that cost became international rugby the moment he sold his All Blacks jersey to an overseas club at such a young age.
The moral calls coming now all sound a little hollow.
They are coming from players who have used their fame to find their fortune elsewhere.
If the islands really is where their rugby passion is, they should have made that point from the outset rather than now looking to have a bob each way.
Auckland-born and educated Piutau should have told Steve Hansen in 2013 that Tonga was really where his heart was instead of teasing him for three short seasons.
It's all sounding a little too convenient now that he hasn't played a test since July 2015. And what about the young island players these very players are looking to replace in these national teams? That hardly sounds fair.
Rugby's tough stance is to be commended rather than criticised.
Having players change willy-nilly makes a mockery of international sport.
It will be interesting to see what happens to Taumalolo now that the razzmatazz of the Rugby League World Cup has subsided.
This will be the true test of his devotion.
With a new Kiwis coach surely in the winds of change following New Zealand's disastrous tournament, and with a far busier international calendar beckoning the black and white jersey, what kit will Taumalolo now decide to wear? It's ridiculous that he even has a choice.
Rugby doesn't need to degrade itself with such decisions.
Let their players switch codes to switch countries.”