Isaia Toeava linked to Samoa for the World Cup

HOME-COMING: Isaia Toeava could return to Super Rugby next year.
HOME-COMING: Isaia Toeava could return to Super Rugby next year.

Former All Black Isaia Toeava is weighing up an eligibility switch to Samoa.

If he did, Toeava, who played 36 tests for New Zealand, could play for Samoa at the Rugby World Cup next year.

And it is understood a number of other former All Blacks including France-based Rudi Wulf and Lelia Masaga (Japan) have also shown interest in being part of Samoa's squad.

Former Chiefs No 8 Fritz Lee (Clermont) is another name being bandied about as a serious consideration, while whispers have even extended to former Reds and Wallabies wing Digby Ioane.

Ioane is plying his trade with Stade Francais but has not played a test since June 2013, meaning he could make the switch early next year.

The players all have the option of taking advantage of the eligibility loophole created by the inclusion of sevens in the 2016 Olympics.

Any capped test player who has not played a test in the past 18 months and holds a passport for another country can represent that country in next year's IRB Sevens World Series.

They would then become eligible to play 15s for the same country.

It is understood moves are afoot to make that happen as Samoa look to assemble a star-studded squad.

Samoa's expanded test programme and the addition of New Zealand-based coaches Alama Ieremia and Tom Coventry have become draw cards for top overseas based professionals.

Samoa play tests against Italy, Canada, France and England later this year, an end of year programme comparable to the All Blacks.

Hurricanes Alapati Leiua, Jack Lam and Faifili Levave have all declared for Samoa and other New Zealand-based players on the fringe of the All Blacks could follow suit.

Should Toeava take the plunge, it would add significant momentum to Samoa's World Cup campaign.

An immensely talented player, and still only 28, he has put a debilitating hip injury behind him and has been playing, largely at first five-eighth in Japan, first for the Canon Eagles and now for the Kubota Spears.

Ironically, switching allegiance to his birth country may open the way for the man known as Ice to return to Super Rugby.

The Blues efforts to sign the talented utility came unstuck last year because he was not willing to give up his contract in Japan in order to satisfy the New Zealand Rugby Union's eligibility rules.

Toeava doesn't meet the NZRU criteria which says only players who have played 40 tests for the All Blacks or 80 Super Rugby matches can be registered as an overseas player with the NZRU.

To play for a Super Rugby team in New Zealand, players must sign up for the entire calendar year and make themselves available for a provincial side and the All Blacks.

However, Super Rugby teams are allowed to sign two overseas players, not eligible for the All Blacks.

Toeava would meet that criteria if he declared his hand for Samoa and several franchises are understood to be keen on his services should he make that decision.

But it will not be a simple process for Toeava or any other player wishing to make the change.

They will first have to apply to the IRB, then play for Samoa in at least one leg of next year's Sevens World Series.

That means convincing their overseas clubs to release them, not only for the world cup but for a potentially inconvenient week away to play sevens.

If those obstacles can be navigated, a star-studded Samoa could add an exciting dimension to the world Cup where Pacific Island countries have often been without dual passport holding-players already used then discarded by tier one nations.

Samoa Rugby World Cup Dream Team: Rudi Wulf, Digby Ioane, Alapati Leiua, Johnny Leota, David Smith, Isaia Toeava, Kahn Fotuali'i, Fritz Lee, Jack Lam, Faifili Levave, Kane Thompson, Filo Paulo, Census Johnston, Ti'i Paulo, Logovi'i Mulipola.

The Dominion Post