Why Highlander is choosing New Zealand over Tonga
INTERVIEW: Highlanders scrumhalf Folau Fakatava has outlined his ambition to play for the All Blacks after recovering from the ruptured ACL he suffered last year.
Fakatava has frequently been linked with All Blacks selection as one of New Zealand’s most promising young prospects, but is yet to make his test debut after sustaining his serious knee injury in last year’s win over the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Speaking to media ahead of this week’s rematch in Dunedin on Friday, the Tongan-born 22-year-old confirmed his desire to play for the All Blacks should the opportunity arise down the line.
“Yeah, obviously All Blacks are the best in the world for me, so it’d be good to have a crack at it,” Fakatava said before suggesting that he may choose to instead play for Tonga should an All Blacks call-up elude him.
“Just keep doing what I do, learn from the best, and hopefully, when the opportunities come, I’ll take it.
“If not, then I might have to play for Tonga.”
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Questions remain over Fakatava’s eligibility status for New Zealand after World Rugby altered its laws so that players must reside in their adopted nation for five continuous years rather than three.
Fakatava moved from Tonga to New Zealand as a schoolboy in 2016, but World Rugby’s new laws mean that the five-year residency period only begins once a player turns 18.
As such, Fakatava’s residency period only began in December 2017, meaning he won’t be eligible for the All Blacks until December this year.
New Zealand Rugby could, however, launch an appeal to World Rugby to make Fakatava available for the All Blacks before this December on the basis that he has now lived in New Zealand for six years.
When asked on the matter, Fakatava said he has no interest in the off-field proceedings surrounding his international eligibility as he instead focuses on his on-field performances with the Highlanders.
“I’ve been talking with my agent and I got a message from other people. For me, I don’t really care much. I just focus on right now and the team, the performance, so I don’t really worry about what’s going to happen with my eligibility,” he said.
“If it happens, it happens. I’ve just got to nail every week and put a performance out there.”
The Chiefs have opened their 2022 Super Rugby Pacific campaign in victorious fashion, beating the Highlanders 26-16 at Wakatipu Rugby Club in Queenstown on Saturday.
Should he become remain unavailable for the All Blacks, Tonga may look to secure Fakatava’s services as part of their global raid of players following World Rugby’s overhauled eligibility laws that enable test-capped players to switch countries.
Since that change of ruling, Israel Folau, Charles Piutau, Malakai Fekitoa, Sekope Kepu, Adam Coleman, Vaea Fifita, George Moala, Augustine Pulu and Atu Moli are, or will soon become, eligible for Tonga this year after completing three-year stand-downs from Test rugby.
With such star power in the ‘Ikale Tahi’s ranks, Fakatava could be persuaded to represent his homeland while still being eligible to play for the All Blacks provided he too stands down from international rugby for three years.
Before all of that, though, Fakatava is intent on getting back to his best for the Highlanders after a successful return to action from his knee injury during last week’s season-opening defeat to the Chiefs in Queenstown.
“Yeah, obviously I trusted my rehab, all the help that I had throughout my rehab. By the time I was out on that field, I was pretty confident, nail my role and preparation throughout the week. Knee’s feeling good.”
By Alex McLeod, RugbyPass