Rugby. Folau, Fekitoa, Tamanivalu… These players who will make their debut with their new country

Malakai Fekitoa, who made 24 caps for the All Blacks, now represents Tonga, his country of origin. (©Icon Sports)

Since 1ah January, the board World Rugby has introduced a relaxation of the current eligibility rules for international players, allowing many players to change teams under certain conditions: not won an international match for 3 years, born in the country of the federation to which they wish to be transferred, or have a parent or grandparent in it have born.

A change that will take full effect this summer as several big names in world rugby will take advantage of this relaxation to make their debuts with their new teams. This applies in particular under pacific nations (Samoa, Tonga and Fiji) which will throw several neophytes into the bath during the summer periods. Here are the main ones

Malakai Fekitoa (Tonga)

Former Toulon center or winger (2017–2019) and former New Zealand international, Malakai Fekitoa (30 years old; 24 selections in the All Blacks) celebrates his first selection with Tonga against Fiji this Saturday. Born in Ha’apai, Tonga, the player played with the Tonga Sevens at the Monaco Olympic Qualifying Tournament last summer and was looking forward to his big XV debut with the ‘Sea Eagles’ (Ikale Tahi), nicknamed the Tongan side. The current Wasps (England) player, number 12 holder, will make an attractive central couple with Sydney-born Perpignan Afusipa Taumoepeau (2 selections) and ex-U20 international and Australian 7. But he will not find the elder Saia Fekitoa (34 years; 2 selections) in Narbonne center as the latter has not been called up by coach Toutai Kefu after being sentenced to a year’s suspended prison sentence on September 21, 2021 for acts of violence against his wife and daughter-in-law.

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Seta Tamanivalu (Fiji)

Three-time New Zealand international, winger or centre Seta Tamanivalu, born in Lautoka, Fiji, will play his first international match with his native country against Tonga this Saturday. Passed by UBB in 2018-2020, he has not tasted at international level since August 2016 and a recent selection with the All Blacks against Australia. On his first match report with Fiji, he starts on the bench, with the flanks well guarded by Toulonnais Jiuta Wainoqolo, Olympic rugby sevens champion in Tokyo, and young Vinaya Habosi (22), who plays with Fijian Drua, the first professional Fijian -Franchise set in Super Rugby.

Israel Folau (Tonga)

the ex wallaby, Israel Folau (33 years old; 73 selections), sacked by the Australian FA in 2019 for posting homophobic comments on social media, will make his debut with Tonga against Fiji in the Nations Cup of the Pacific this Saturday 2 July, the takes place in Suva, the capital of Fiji. He ends a four-year absence from the international rugby scene as his last cape with the Wallabies came against England at Twickenham on 24 November 2018.

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Handed over from 2020 to 2021 by the Catalans Dragons rugby club, the sulphurous three-quarters, which can develop at the back, in the middle or on the wing, has been developing at the Shining Arcs Tokyo -Bay ( Japan) since last summer. A week after their final Pacific Nations Cup game against the Fijians, Tonga will face either Hong Kong or South Korea for a place in Group B of next year’s World Cup.

The composition of Tonga versus Fiji with 12 neophytes.
The composition of Tonga versus Fiji with 12 neophytes. (©Tonga Rugby Union)

Charles Piutau (Tonga)

International U20 with Tonga in 2010 (5 selections), versatile three-quarters player Charles Piutau (30) then opted to represent New Zealand at international level. He was selected with the Baby Blacks in 2011, with whom he won the World Youth Championship, before representing the New Zealand Rugby Sevens team (42 caps) and then being called up to the All Blacks (17 selections) from 2013 to 2015. The latter Selection with the Silver Fern shirt dates back to 25 July 2015 against South Africa in the Rugby Championship. So the star from Bristol (England) can effectively compete with Ikale Tahi. A selection from the Pacific where he will not be lucky enough to find his older brother Siale Piutau (36 years old; 43 caps), the third best player in the selection as the latter ended his international career at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Fritz Lee (Clermont) will also make his debut for Samoa

Also note that 8 players will earn their first cap with Manu Samoa against Australia A, including Clermont third line Fritz Leeafter being a New Zealand U20 or 7 international (Aki Seiuli, Ereatara Enari, Nigel Ah Wong, Lolagi Visinia, Danny Toala, Andrew Tuala and Marco Fepuleai).

So does Tongans Veikoso Poloniati, William Havili, Anzelo Tu’itavuki, Sosefoa ‘Apikotoa, Lotu Inisi, Manu Paea and Tima Fainga’anuku, who will all have their international baptism of fire against Fiji on Saturday.

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