Rugby: Former All Black Charles Piutau close to completing Tonga switch


Former All Black Charles Piutau's long-held dream of representing Tonga could finally become reality at the upcoming Olympic Sevens qualifier in Monaco.

Players with dual eligibility can switch their international allegiance by participating in Olympic qualifying events, provided they had a passport for the second country and have completed a stand-down period of three years.

Piutau played the last of his 17 tests for the All Blacks in 2015 and stated four years ago that he would love to represent his Tongan heritage.

Tonga sevens coach Tevita Tu'ifua says, after a couple of false starts, the signs are promising that several former All Blacks and Wallabies stars could pull on the red jersey in June.

"That's a dream for me, to be able to have that opportunity to be given to those guys who have been playing for the All Blacks or the Wallabies that are based over in Europe, to have the opportunity if they change their mind to make themselves available for the 'Ikale Tahi, this is the opportunity for them," Tu'ifua says.

Tonga have had previous success using the Olympic loophole, with Cooper Vuna, Atieli Pakalani and Nafi Tuitivake all switching their allegiance from Australia and New Zealand, via the sevens route.

A former Tonga U20 representative, Piutau was to debut for Tonga at the Oceania Sevens in Fiji two years ago. The Bristol Bears fullback completed all his paperwork, but didn't receive the green light to take the field, until a few days before the tournament kicked off.

"It was very short notice that we received a reply from World Rugby," explains Tu'ifua. "It was on the second day of the tournament week we got the green light from World Rugby, so Charles was just too late to come from Europe to Fiji, as you have to play 50 percent of the tournament.

"This opportunity for this tournament is an opportunity for Charles, and even Malakai Fekitoa and the like. There's quite a few of them that are based up there."

Players switching their allegiance only need to feature in half of a team's matches at the Olympic qualifying event and would then be eligible to play for the 'Ikale Tahi 15-a-side team.

Tevita Tu'ifua played 15 tests for Tonga, representing the kingdom at the 2003 and 2007 Rugby World Cups. The former national sevens star says, if a few high profile players can switch their allegiance to Tonga, it could lead to a seismic shift in international rugby.

"It will be massive for Tonga - for the people and also for the rugby itself - and that's why I think [former 'Ikale Tahi coach] Toutai Kefu started the pushing through of the players in the list we are working on," he says.

"And still behind the scenes, Toutai is still pushing through and communicating with the players, and hopefully we will get a few numbers and be able to give them the opportunity."