The temptation to play in the Rugby World Cup may result in several players switching testing countries under World Rugby eligibility laws to compete in the tournament in France. World Rugby has approved a change to rugby eligibility laws effective January 2022 that allows players to represent a second test nation provided they have a close and credible connection to that union by birthright.
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While the likes of Charles Piutau, Jack Dempsey, Fritz Lee, Steven Luatua, Israel Folau and George Moala have already made the switch, we’re looking at 15 other players who could do the same in a tournament year.
How does a player transfer to another Test nation?
Before we dive into the players, let’s recap how a player will move from one test nation to another under World Rugby’s revised rule 8. The player must have a close and credible connection with the union to which he wants to transfer by birthright. .
The player must withdraw from international rugby for 36 months. The player must either be born in the country they want to move to or have a parent or grandparent born in that country.
Under the revised criteria of Rule 8, a player may only change alliances once and each case will be subject to approval by the World Rugby Rules Committee to maintain integrity. Piutau, for example, met those requirements by playing nine Test matches for New Zealand between 2013 and 2015, but only played Test rugby again when he made his debut for Tonga in 2022.
Although Piutau was born in New Zealand, his parents are from Tonga and were born in Tonga, which paved the way for him to represent Ikale Tahi. So that’s it, let’s take a look at the players who can switch nations in 2023.
Alex Lozowski – England to Italy
Italy head coach Kieran Crowley revealed that he spoke with Lozowski before naming his team the Six Nations for 2022, but the player ultimately decided not to change teams ahead of the tournament.
The 29-year-old has played five times for England, earning the last of his Test matches in 2018. He is eligible to cross over to Italy through his Italian grandparents. While Lozowski withdrew from Italy in 2022, the team’s upward trajectory could change his mind, as could the temptation to play in the Rugby World Cup. Its quality and versatility will be a real asset for the Italian team.
John Cooney – Ireland to Scotland
Ulster scrum half Cooney could trade Ireland for Scotland through his Scottish father. Cooney has represented his country of birth, Ireland, on 11 occasions and his most recent cap came in a defeat to England in the 2020 Six Nations tournament.
He is eligible to move to Scotland from Ireland next February 23, meaning he will miss the first two rounds of the competition but will make his debut against France and play against Ireland and Italy.
Earlier this year, the 32-year-old didn’t rule out a move when he appeared on the BBC’s Ulster Rugby Show, saying: Half of my family lives in Scotland and my father is a proud Scot. I have to make sure I’m okay with Ulster in terms of contract and stuff.
Julian Savea – New Zealand to Samoa
While Ardie Savea was named All Blacks Player of the Year for his efforts in 2022, his brother Julian has not played for New Zealand since the 2017 British and Irish Lions series.
Savea survived his trial period at Toulon but looks set to play his best rugby again this year for the Hurricanes. However, his form was not enough to convince All Blacks coaches that he deserved a test recall. After representing the All Blacks 54 times and making 46 tries, Savea is eligible to transfer to Samoa through his parents.
Morgan Parra – France to Portugal
After earning 71 test caps for France and representing Les Bleus and three Rugby World Cups, Parra could make another World Cup appearance in Portugal’s colors. He played the last of his test matches during the 2019 RWC and was able to move to Os Lobos thanks to his Portuguese father Antonio.
The 34-year-old has indeed retired from international rugby, but then again, the temptation to play another Rugby World Cup could tempt him out of retirement, especially considering this is Portugal’s first tournament since 2007.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow – New Zealand to Australia
Earlier this year, Kerr-Barlow became available as a selection at the Wallabies. The former All Blacks scrum half played Test rugby for five years but is eligible to play for Australia, his country of birth. He won the Rugby World Cup with the All Blacks in 2015 and earned the last of his 27 Test matches in 2018 against South Africa.
“I’m ready to play for the Wallabies! I was born here. I have many connections in this country, and if the coaching staff calls me, I will go without hesitation. It would be a great opportunity, but at the moment I’m focused on La Rochelle, he told Rugby Ram.”
Nathan Hughes – England to Fiji
Now taking care of his trade in Japan, Hughes could add to the plethora of Fiji talent in their back row. He earned the last of his 22 England caps in 2019 as he was born in Fiji; he already has a right to the nation.
Sergio Parisse – Italy to Argentina
Another unlikely change, but still a possibility, as Parisse could represent the country he was born in despite having played 142 times for Italy.
The 39-year-old still represents Toulon in the top 14 and last played for the Azzurri during the 2019 Rugby World Cup. He put off his retirement to play for Italy once more, but his plan was thwarted several times.
Lima Sopoaga – New Zealand to Samoa
From an unlikely transition to one that is entirely possible, the former All Black Sopoaga has openly expressed his desire to represent Samoa and almost did so under the old rules. On James Marshall’s What A Lad podcast last year, he explained that he planned to use the Olympic loophole to represent Samoa after earning 16 caps for New Zealand between 2015 and 2017.
“I tried to make a switch like Malakai [Fekitoa]. He played in Monaco and I wanted to be part of that with the [Samoan] sevens. It just didn’t work out because my voucher [to return to New Zealand] was for June 16th and we couldn’t reschedule it so me and my whole family could come back. We have already booked tickets, Sopoaga said.”
Sopoaga has been on the sidelines since July, further delaying his move to Tests, which could come in Samoa’s first match of the new year. Rugby fans can buy Rugby World Cup Final Tickets at exclusively discounted prices.
Zach Mercer – England to New Zealand
Mercer, who returned from France to sign for Gloucester ahead of the 2023/24 Premier League season, has indicated he is looking to restart his Test career in England. However, the number eight can switch to the New Zealand side if he so chooses, as he is eligible for the All Blacks thanks to his father, who has made 21 rugby league Tests for New Zealand in his career.
Byron McGuigan – Scotland to Namibia
The Namibian-born McGuigan has appeared in and out of the Scotland squad recently, but his last game came during the 2020 Six Nations. The 33-year-old is eligible to represent Namibia from 22 February next year and could switch to Tests in time to make his Rugby World Cup debut.
Alec Hepburn – England to Australia
The Exeter Chiefs player was born in Perth and earned six caps for England in 2018. He was already eligible for a move in 2021, but Australia’s policy of selecting overseas players has made it difficult for him to move if he wants to, as has the wallaby’s depth in the front row.
If he wants to do so, he may need to sign an agreement with the Australian Super Rugby team to become eligible, or need to change Australia’s selection policy.
Taqele Naiyaravoro – Australia to Fiji
Fiji has options on the flank, but Nayaravoro’s imposing figure could be a valuable asset in the Rugby World Cup. The 31-year-old currently plays in Japan Rugby League One after his stint with Northampton Saints. Born in Fiji, he played two Tests for Australia, the last of which was in 2016.
Henry Speight – Australia to Fiji
Another former Wallaby could trade the Gold and Green for the Flying Fijians. Speight, 34, was also born in Fiji and represented Australia 19 times between 2014 and 2017.
Tevita Kuridrani – Australia to Fiji
Like Naiyaravoro and Speight, Kuridrani was born in Fiji. The veteran center made over 130 appearances for the Brumbies and was a mainstay of the Wallabies between 2013 and 2019, earning 61 caps and playing in two Rugby World Cups. Now doing his trade in Biarritz, Kuridrani could switch to Fiji, provided he can crack the nod in another well-stocked position.
Denny Solomona – England to Samoa
Former Sale Sharks speedster Solomon was born in New Zealand and is now eligible to represent the All Blacks and Samoa. In 2017, he earned five Test caps for England but was able to switch to the country he represented in rugby league, Samoa.
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