All-Star XV Who Could Be Playing for Nation of Their Birth at World Cup
Since the dawn of professionalism, rugby players have become globetrotting guns for hire, upping sticks to take up contracts in far-flung places.
And with the advent of the new-age traveling player came a fluidity of nationality that meant Pacific Islanders could end up wearing the Red Rose and hulking great South Africans could be seen belting out Il Canto degli Italiani during the Six Nations, as long as they'd lived in their adopted homes long enough.
Love or hate it, there is now barely a country who will bring a squad to next year’s World Cup without a "naturalised" player or two in their ranks.
Indeed, a recent change in IRB regulations has made it possible for players to switch countries having previously represented one, as long as they hold a passport, as ESPNScrum outlined:
With the inclusion of Sevens at the 2016 Olympics, rules state that a player can represent a nation as long as they hold that nation's passport. According to the IRB Handbook, Regulation 8, any player who has represented a national team but has a passport for a second nation, can switch teams during the 2014-2015 IRB Sevens World Series if there has been an 18-month period since their last national appearance.
A player must apply first to switch allegiances and must be approved before and then take the field for their new nation in next season's World Series, which doubles as Olympic qualification. Once a player has made his debut for a new team in an Olympic event they become eligible for selection for any form of the game in his new country.
So what would an all-star side of players who could play for their birth country look like? Let’s have a stab.
1. Mako Vunipola – New Zealand
The England prop has had a circuitous route to the Red Rose. It is a journey that actually started in the land of the long, white cloud. Vunipola was born in New Zealand, per his profile on rfu.com, but was brought up in Wales where his father, a Tongan international, played. He was schooled at Harrow before going through the age-grade system in England.
2. Dylan Hartley – New Zealand
Hartley is another current England international with Kiwi roots. Hartley hails from Rotorua on the North Island. Gavin Mairs wrote in The Telegraph in 2009:
Hartley, 23, left his home town of Rotorua for England six years ago when he was offered a place in Worcester's academy. He would join Northampton two years later. Yet as he prepares to win his 12th cap for England a year on from making his debut against the Pacific Islands, Hartley admits his ties with New Zealand are still strong. He takes pride in the fact that his former first XV captain at Rotorua Boys' High School is current All Black Liam Messam and that Tom Donnelly, in the New Zealand starting XV on Saturday, and Mike Delany, are also old boys of his alma mater.
3. Tendai Mtawarira – Zimbabwe
There was much talk about the origins of the man they call The Beast when the South African government questioned his eligibility to play for the Springboks. The prop was born in Harare, Zimbabwe and schooled there until being spotted by the Sharks in South Africa. The Telegraph’s Brendan Gallagher wrote in 2009.
The Springboks woke up on Friday morning to learn that a strongly worded statement had been issued overnight by their own South African Sports Ministry, which insisted that the Zimbabwean-born Mtawarira was not a South African passport holder, nor could he be considered a South African citizen.
The Ministry also disputed whether Mtawarira possessed a permanent residence permit, or even a valid work permit, to play professional rugby in South Africa.
Mtawarira, 24, has already won 15 Springbok caps, but was born and raised in Harare and educated at the renowned rugby nursery, Peterhouse College, from where he won Zimbabwe Under-19 honours.
4. Will Skelton – New Zealand
Skelton only made his debut for Australia in this year’s series against France, but he made quite an impact with his size and athleticism. Enough of a stir, you suspect, that New Zealanders may have wondered why this one was allowed to get away. The giant lock was born in Auckland but moved to Sydney aged 10.
5. Quintin Geldenhuys - South Africa
Italy’s big second rower hails from Krugersdorp, South Africa, but has 49 caps for the Azzurri. The big lock skippered them on their summer tour and looks set to be one of their most experienced figureheads going into the 2015 World Cup.
6. Billy Vunipola – Australia
Vunipola came up the same way as his brother Mako but was born across the Tasman sea in Australia. The big No. 8 comes into this side at No. 6 to make room for a couple of other world-class back rowers with roots elsewhere. We can be certain that this trip will not lack for willing ball-carriers.
7. Sergio Parisse – Argentina
Parisse is another No. 8 who we cannot leave out of this side, so he slots in at No. 7 courtesy of his early years in Argentina. The totemic Italian back rower was born in La Plata, as ESPNScrum explain:
Unlike several other Azzurri internationals of recent vintage, Parisse's heritage is not a simple case of switching from Argentina, where he was born, to Italy for economic or rugby expedience. His father, also Sergio, played for the L'Aquila club with whom he won the Italian club championship in 1967 before his job with the Alitalia airline took him to Argentina in 1970. Sergio junior was born in 1983 and played his early rugby for La Plata. His family spoke Italian at home and every year Sergio would go on holiday to Italy.
Parisse moved to Italy and joined Treviso where he played for four years before signing for Stade Français in Paris in 2005. While with Treviso he was capped at the age of 18 by then Azzurri coach John Kirwan, in a 64-10 defeat to New Zealand in Hamilton in June 2002.
By the looks of the photo above, he has been granted the ultimate forgiveness for his defection by Argentina's most famous son.
8. Taulupe Faletau – Tonga
The man we once all knew as Toby gave a nod to his Tonga heritage last year when he decided to revert to his original name, as Mark Orders of the South Wales Evening Post wrote:
An email from the Welsh Rugby Union before the Wales v Italy game indicated that Toby Faletau wanted to be known by his birth name of Taulupe Faletau from here on in.
Faletau was seven when his dad moved to Wales to play for Ebbw Vale.
9. Will Genia – Papua New Guinea
He may have fallen from favour with the current Australian management, but there are plenty of rugby nations who would gladly have a player of Will Genia’s talent to call upon. If they ever qualified, his birthplace, Papua New Guinea, would surely hand him a cap in a heartbeat.
10. Quade Cooper – New Zealand
If, by 2011, you didn’t know Quade Cooper was originally from New Zealand, you would have been left in no doubt by the end of the World Cup that year. The Wallabies fly-half was barracked by the home crowds for leaving his roots behind to make his way in Australia.
Darren Walton wrote on Stuff.co.nz via AAP:
Quade Cooper is resigned to being New Zealand's Public Enemy No.1 for the rest of his career and the recalled Wallaby says he's already bracing for more crowd abuse from All Blacks fans.
Kiwi-born Cooper earned the dubious honour three years ago amid his running battle with All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, with the playmaker's popularity slumping to a nasty low at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in his native New Zealand.
But even McCaw has grown tired of the taunts and pleaded with fans to back off after Cooper was jeered endlessly in the Crusaders' Super Rugby semi-final win over the Queensland Reds in Christchurch two weeks ago.
'If they're going to listen to anybody, it'll be Richie. But I can't control that so I'm not going to get too involved or worry about it,' Cooper said.
12. Isaia Toeava – Fiji
Toeava is one ex-All Black who may well exploit the new regulations to turn out for homeland Fiji. The lure of the sevens tournament at the 2016 Olympics is a strong one for many players who might seek a route to performing on that stage and could well go via the 15-a-side World Cup to get there.
13. Manu Tuilagi – Samoa
The Leicester wrecking ball was born in Samoa as part of one of rugby’s most famous families. Of his six brothers Freddie, Henry and Alesana have represented their homeland while the younger man opted for England after coming to the UK to see older brother Freddie, per the Daily Mail:
He flew to Britain with his mother at the age of 13 to join Freddie, who was playing for Cardiff.
'I'm grateful to Leicester and England for backing me, because that must have been a hard decision'
‘I played for a club in Wales as well. I remember going on for the first time and saying, “How can you play in this weather?” My hands were frozen. I was on the bench but I came on and I scored. So that was good.’
The Tuilagi brothers were subsequently brought together by Leicester Tigers. Six played for the club, with Manu in the youth academy.
11. Joe Rokocoko – Fiji
Rokocoko is another who could play for Fiji at the next World Cup. He is sure to be on the radar of the Fijian Sevens side for the Olympics and, as such, the 68-cap All Black could exploit the new loophole to spend next year playing for them in the short form of the game before putting himself in the mix for 15-a-side selection.
14. Marland Yarde - St Lucia
St. Lucia might not be present in the current 102 teams on the IRB ranking ladder, but you’ve got to have a dream, and perhaps that dream would be a little closer to reality if they had Marland Yarde at their disposal.
The England wing was born on the Caribbean island. Yarde has shown huge promise since breaking into the England team and performed well on their tour of New Zealand.
If he spearheads the host’s charge to a second Webb Ellis Cup, you can bet on a few beach bar patrons of another island nation celebrating long into the night.
15. Luke McLean - Australia
McLean was born to Italian parents, and has been one of the Azzurri’s best players throughout his 56 caps.
His displays have caught the attention of Sale Sharks, who signed him for the upcoming season. Sharks Director of Rugby Steve Diamond told The Guardian:
He is a genuine 15 and great under the high ball. Luke will bring a lot of experience with him and will complement and help push our standards.
With qualifying for the new European competition, we have now brought in four Internationals to replace the lads who are leaving. Luke is also a very competent goalkicker.
It’s doubtful the Wallabies will rue McLean’s decision to play under the flag of his parents given the form of Israel Folau.