Rugby: Why law changes could see Folau Fakatava ruled out of All Blacks contention until 2023

Changes to World Rugby's eligibility rules could keep rising star Folau Fakatava out of All Blacks contention until at least 2023.

After starting the year on fire for the Highlanders in Super Rugby Aotearoa, Fakatava was talked about for higher honours, considered by many to be a shoe-in for a spot as an All Blacks bolter.

Test selection will have to wait for Fakatava though after a full ACL tear in his right knee against the Crusaders saw him ruled out for up to 12 months.

Injury isn't the only thing hampering his chances of All Blacks selection - the next hurdle he'll have to overcome is the World Rugby law changes.

At present, laws state a foreign-born player must complete three years of residency before they're eligible for international selection. But that will change on December 31 as the three year period is extended to five years. 

That means Fakatava would have to debut for the All Blacks this season to avoid the rule change affecting him.

The Highlanders halfback migrated to New Zealand from Tonga on a scholarship with Hastings Boys' High School in 2016. But while he's now lived in New Zealand for almost five years, his residency period under World Rugby guidelines didn't kick off until he turned 18 - at the end of 2017.

This means when the new rules come into effect at the end of the year, he would've only completed four of his five years, meaning he couldn't be selected for the All Blacks in 2022. 

Residency for the purposes of international eligibility is not based on any country's specific legal definitions of residency. Rather, it's defined as "the place or location in which the player has his primary and permanent home".

World Rugby had originally planned to make the rule changes last year but decided to delay the change because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was because the likes of South Africa, Japan and the Pacific Islands were unable to take the field in 2020, which naturally prevented them from blooding new players.

"As it stands he's ineligible in 2022," Fakatava's agent, Kent Hale tells Stuff. 

"There's never really previously been a window that you need to be capped by, not when you're becoming eligible through residency.

"But people get a little bit confused when you say the word residency. It's got nothing to do with New Zealand residency but if you are living in a country and going down that [rugby] pathway, previously the only real rule for that was remaining in that country prior to getting that first cap."

New Zealand Rugby does have the option to challenge the 21-year-olds pending ineligibility or seek an exemption based on the fact he was likely to be picked this year and that the December, 31, 2021 date fails to take injury into consideration.

Fakatava's situation is a complicated one as only the All Blacks selectors know if he was in their top three halfbacks, but with the 21-year-old suffering a serious injury, that discussion will now have to wait until 2022 at the earliest.