Who could play for Manu Samoa if international eligibility laws changed?
The loosening of World Rugby’s Regulation 8, which governs the international eligibility of players, would see the Manu Samoa’s potential talent pool widen significantly.
As part of his manifesto for re-election, incumbent World Rugby chair Sir Bill Beaumont has promised to review those laws in order “to see how we can support the longevity of players’ international careers.”
That promise points to players unwanted by the union they first play for internationally potentially being able to switch their allegiances more easily.
Under the current regulations, players must serve a three-year stand-down period after their final match for the initial union before they can switch through the rugby sevens Olympic loophole, like Manu fullback Tim Nanai-Williams did in 2015.
If the rules are relaxed, which Beaumont seems to favour, Manu Samoa would stand to benefit and here is almost a full starting XV of players unwanted by their international sides that could become Samoan-eligible:
Props: John Afoa and Charlie Faumuina (both New Zealand)
The two former Blues front rowers anchor the scrum. Both players generally feature at tighthead nowadays, but have previously covered the loosehead side well, and Afoa led all no. 3s in the English Premiership in offloads and metres last season.
Unlucky: Jeffery To’omaga-Allen (New Zealand)
Hooker: Brandon Paenga-Amosa (Australia)
The Reds hooker fills this position by default more than anything, as the only former international currently playing in the rugby world’s elite club competitions. Paenga-Amosa began Super Rugby as Queensland’s first-choice hooker before suffering an ankle injury, and at age 24 could theoretically still add to the four Wallabies caps he earned in 2018.
Locks: Will Skelton and Rory Arnold (both Australia)
Last month Skelton confirmed he wouldn’t be returning to Australia in the wake of his seemingly pending departure from English club Saracens, favouring a stay in Europe which will keep him out of the Wallabies. Arnold has become a key cog in the Toulouse pack since leaving Australian Rugby after the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Both players fall short of the 60-cap benchmark required for a Wallaby to play their club rugby outside of Australia, and thus won’t play in the gold jersey again.
Flankers: Steven Luatua and Dalton Papali’i (both New Zealand)
Luatua is Pat Lam’s captain at Bristol, and would get the chance to team up with clubmate Chris Vui in the Manu pack. Papali’i could still have a long All Black career ahead of him at age 22, but was surplus to requirements for New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup campaign and faces an uncertain international future with other prospects emerging.
Unlucky: Pete Samu (Australia), Victor Vito, Jerome Kaino (both New Zealand)
Number Eight: Akira Ioane (New Zealand)
Another player that could theoretically still have All Black caps ahead of him, Ioane is yet to play a test match for New Zealand, who earlier captured his international eligibility through 7s. He saw Hoskins Sotutu take his starting number eight spot for the Blues before Super Rugby was suspended.
Unlucky: Fritz Lee, Nick Williams (both New Zealand)
Halfback: no scrum halves look set to benefit from the proposed change to Regulation 8
First-five: Lima Sopoaga (New Zealand)
The former All Black has already spoken about how keen he is to represent Samoa on the international stage, although has struggled for form since joining English club Wasps.
Midfield: Pita Ahki and Julian Savea (both New Zealand)
Two former All Blacks 7s stars playing in France feature at second five and centre. Ahki makes Toulouse’s backline tick, while Savea’s form has picked up since he shifted in off the wing at Toulon.
Unlucky: Francis Saili, Ma’a Nonu (both New Zealand), Ben Te’o (England)
Wings: Ben Lam (New Zealand) and Chris Feauai-Sautia (Australia)
Lam has signed to play for Bordeaux next season where he will link up with Manu pair Afaesetiti Amosa and Ulupano Seuteni. His time with the All Blacks Sevens prevents him from joining them at international level under the current eligibility laws. Feauai-Sautia played for the Wallabies way back in 2013, but persistent injury troubles have prevented him adding to the two caps he earned as a 20-year-old.
Unlucky: Denny Solomona (England)
Fullback: Isaia Toeava (New Zealand)
When fit, the 34-year-old is among the classier backs in France’s first division, although he is more often selected in the centres for Clermont these days.