Highlanders halfback Folau Fakatava has his sights locked on representing New Zealand and the All Blacks at test level, rather than his native Tonga.
At the start of 2021, Fakatava was one of the hottest prospects of Super Rugby Aotearoa, and had many in the know tipping a spot as an All Blacks botler - due to TJ Perenara being unavailable while playing in Japan.
The livewire No.9 did what no other New Zealand halfback has been able to do, provide genuine competition for All Blacks first-choice Aaron Smith at the Highlanders, before his ambitions were dented by an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
Now a year older and wiser, 22-year-old Fakatava made his comeback last weekend, coming off the bench in the Highlanders' 26-16 season opening loss to the Chiefs, slowly building his way back to the high standards of 2021.
But asked about where his international future lies, Fakatava makes no bones about picking New Zealand over Tonga when it comes to test rugby.
"We'll see, the All Blacks are the best in the world for me," Fakatava says. "It will be good to have a crack at it.
"[I'll] just keep doing what I'm doing, learning from the best. Hopefully if opportunities come, I'll take it.
"If not, then I'll have to play for Tonga at the World Cup."
But it won't be that easy for Fakatava.
A change in rugby's eligibility rules has extended the residency period for foreign-born players from three years to five, seeing Fakatava potentially fall one year short of qualifying, unless given dispensation by World Rugby.
Fakatava 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 more than five years, his residency period under World Rugby guidelines didn't begin until he turned 18 - at the end of 2017.
Under the new laws, Fakatava wouldn't be eligible until 2023 at the earliest - not that it's affecting him in preparation for the Highlanders' next opponents, the Crusaders.
"I've been talking with my agent, and got a message from other people. I don't really care much, I just focus on right now, [the] team performance.
"I don't really worry about what's going to happen with my eligibility. If it happens, it happens.
"I just need to, every week, put a good performance out there."
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