Samoa to chase ex All Blacks for national team

BEN STRANG
Last updated 05:00 23/07/2014
Mils Muliaina
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ELIGIBLE: Former All Black Mils Muliaina could play for Samoa if he wanted to.

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Samoa could have a small number of former All Blacks take the field against New Zealand in their scheduled test match next year in Apia.

That is if their head hunting efforts pay off this year, after a loophole in the International Rugby Board's player eligibility rules came to light.

As revealed by Fairfax Media on Monday, some former New Zealand internationals could end up playing against the All Blacks at the 2015 Rugby World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics.

A loophole in the IRB rules, created because of the inclusion of rugby sevens at the Rio Olympics, could allow players who have not represented their country for 18 months to switch allegiance to another country for which they hold a passport.

The players would simply apply to switch nations, then appear for their new country's sevens side in Olympic qualification next year.

From then on they would be eligible for that country in all forms of the game.

Players such as Sonny Bill Williams, Frank Halai and Joe Rokocoko are among those who could theoretically switch allegiance to Samoa, Tonga or Fiji, respectively.

Samoa Rugby Union media officer Rula Sua Vaai confirmed yesterday the union was interested in bringing former All Blacks to play for Samoa.

Although the union had yet to ''set out on a player hunt'', it planned to investigate some players in the near future, Sua Vaai said.

As reported on Monday, Williams is one player who could theoretically turn out for Samoa, although that is unlikely after he signed a two-year deal with New Zealand rugby which begins next year.

However, former New Zealand sevens players Tim Nanai-Williams and Fritz Lee, or former All Blacks Mils Muliaina, Isaia Toeava and Lelia Masaga could choose to switch allegiance to Samoa.

Sua Vaai wouldn't say if there were any particular players Samoa was targeting, but coach Stephen Betham said the big gain would be for Samoa's sevens programme.

Betham said there are pros and cons with the rule for Samoa.

The main problem would be around rewarding young, up-and-coming players with spots in the Samoan team, or handing those places to experienced former All Blacks defecting to Samoa.

Fiji have indicated that they would not go out head hunting players for their sevens and 15s teams, but would speak to any player keen on switching allegiance.

Fijian sevens coach Ben Ryan has been reported as saying players will have to show interest in switching allegiance to Fiji, and will then be given a fair chance to make his sevens side.

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Meanwhile, British website The Rugby Paper reports that English backrower and European player of the year Steffon Armitage could switch allegiance to France for next year's World Cup.

Having missed out on England selection since 2010, Armitage is reportedly eyeing a switch to France next year, if he is able to gain citizenship. 

- Waikato Times

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