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Tonga set to unleash seven world class former tier one internationals at RWC 2023

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Wednesday May 17, 2023

The 2023 Rugby World Cup is now just five short months away, and whilst there is still plenty of high stakes rugby to be played. One could be forgiven for taking a peek behind the curtain as to what the tournament may have in store.

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One such storyline that will be interesting to track is players changing their national team, given this is the first World Cup since the 2021 World Rugby eligibility rule change.

The rule change has allowed test-capped players to represent a second nation that they are eligible for if they, their parents or their grandparents were born there, but only after a three-year stand-down period from test rugby.

Geared primarily towards players who have played for tier one nations and are eligible for tier two nations, the rule change could have a major effect on the global rugby landscape.

One such nation who are set to benefit greatly from the change is the South Pacific island nation Tonga which is set to welcome a host of world-class talent to its world cup squad.

Joining their ranks over the past season are six supremely talented former All Blacks and one former controversial yet world-class Wallaby.

Vaea Fifita – Scarlets

A rampaging backrower, Fifita won 11 test caps for the All Blacks between 2017 – 2019 before moving to the Welsh side Scarlets. Born in Tonga, the 30-year-old Fifita made his debut for Tonga in 2022.

Charles Piutau – Bristol Bears

Once the game highest-paid player, Japan-bound Piutau shocked the rugby world when he departed New Zealand Rugby in 2015 to join English Premiership side Wasps. Since then, he has played for Irish URC side Ulster and, most recently, Premiership side the Bristol Bears. Now 31 years old, Piutau will ply his trade in the Japanese top league from next season. At the time of his departure from the All Blacks set-up, he had 17 test caps and is another player who made his debut for Tonga in 2022.

Israel Folau – Urayasu D-Rocks

One of rugby’s most controversial figures, Folau is a multiple sports phenom who has excelled in both Rugby League and Union whilst also having a sting in Aussie Rules. Having seen his contract torn up by Rugby Australia in 2019 following a string of homophobic social media posts, Folau returned briefly to rugby league before coming back to union. Having featured 73 times for the Wallabies, Folau is by far the most experienced international on this list.

George Moala – Clermont

32-year-old Moala is a four-time capped All Black who has spent the last five seasons with French Top 14 giants Clermont Auvergne. A hard-hitting centre, Moala featured first for the Tongan U20 side before switching to the All Blacks. Now back in the red jersey, his potential centre partnership with the next player on this list could prove to be one of the best at the Rugby World Cup.

Malakai Fekitoa – Munster

A World Cup winner in 2015 with New Zealand, Fekitoa is another player that the All Blacks would’ve liked to keep in their system. Departing Kiwi shores in 2017 for big-spending French Top 14 outfit Toulon, Fekitoa has played in Europe’s three biggest league’s having spent time with Premiership side Wasps and, most recently, URC finalist Munster. Having started his season slowly with Munster leading to an early release from his three-year contract, Fekitoa has exploded in the second half of the season and is one of the in-form URC centres. Next season he will join Italian URC side Benetton and, as touched on above, will likely form a powerful centre partnership with Moala at the World Cup.

Tau Koloamatangi – Moana Pasifika

28-year-old Porp Koloamatangi has an interesting story, having featured for the New Zealand U20 side before representing Hong Kong and now Tonga. Currently representing Super Rugby Pacific side Moana Pasifika, Koloamatangi looks set to anchor the Tongan Scrum at the World Cup against some of the best front rows in the game in Ireland, Scotland, and South Africa.

Augustine Pulu – Hino Red Dolphins

A powerhouse at the scrumhalf position, Pulu enjoyed productive spells with New Zealand Super Rugby sides the Chiefs and Blues and had made two appearances for the All Blacks. Having captained the Blues in 2018, Pulu will offer key leadership qualities to the Tongan side as they navigate their brutally tough World Cup pool.

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