Tonga target All Blacks star for World Cup 2019
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Having seemingly taken inspiration from their Rugby League cousins, the Tongan Rugby Union team are looking to acquire the services of a couple of All Blacks for the 2019 World Cup.
As reported in the New Zealand Herald, Charles Piutau has confirmed he is keen to represent the country of their heritage, after playing 17 tests for the All Blacks earlier in his career.
All Black wing Frank Halai is also being targeted as a possible recruit.
According to Tongan coach and former Wallaby Toutai Kefu: "I've spoken to him [Piutau] a few times and his brother as well – he's very determined to play for Tonga so we're very happy about that," he said, referring Charles' brother and former Chiefs centre Siale.
Piutau is currently at Ulster and has signed to play at Bristol next season, where he'll enjoy the status of being the world's highest paid player – ironically one that cannot play test rugby, given the current All Black eligibility rules that prevent anyone playing offshore from selection.
However, that can change due to loophole in World Rugby’s eligibility rules. The Piutau brothers and Halai could make a switch to the red jersey of Tonga by being selected for the Tongan Sevens side in Olympic qualifying tournaments, or the 2018/19 World Series.
This has already been used by Tim Nanai-Williams, a former All Black Sevens rep, to switch allegiance to Manu Samoa.
"They just have to play two tournaments I think…they just have to be Olympic qualifying tournaments.
"There's a tournament in the World Cup year  that we still need to find out the minor details of that with Oceania [Rugby], but there's a tournament that we may be able to qualify them in around June/July of World Cup year," said Kefu.
The news comes after the Tongan league team managed to acquire the services of NRL superstars Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita, who both turned down selection by New Zealand and Australia respectively. They played a huge role in the team upsetting the Kiwis and making the semifinals of the tournament, inspiring a massive wave of support.