New Zealand's Rugby World Cup foreign legion first XV

Karne Hesketh, pictured here scoring his match-winning try against the Springboks, is just one of 40 New Zealand-born ...

Karne Hesketh, pictured here scoring his match-winning try against the Springboks, is just one of 40 New Zealand-born players playing for other nations at the World Cup.

Japan's Kiwi wing Karne Hesketh provided one of the moments of the Rugby World Cup with his match-winning try against South Africa but he is just one of 40 New Zealand-born players who will take the field for adopted nations at this year's tournament.

New Zealand's foreign legion will play a part in nine countries' World Cup bids.

Combined with the All Blacks' 26 Kiwi-born players – Jerome Kaino (American Samoa), Waisake Naholo (Fiji), Malakai Fekitoa (Tonga), Ben Franks and Tawera Kerr-Barlow (both Australia) were all born overseas – there are 66 New Zealand-born players at the tournament.

Samoa lead the way with 13 Kiwi-born players in their squad followed by Tonga with nine, Japan with seven and Australia with four. Scotland and Ireland have two Kiwis each while England, France and Romania have one apiece.

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While some of the players like Kahn Fotuali'i, Jared Payne, Tim Nanai-Williams, Sean Maitland and Motu Matu'u have flown close to the All Blacks' radar, others like Mako Vunipola and Joe Tomane left the country long before they first strapped on rugby boots.

The Kiwi-born players' dominance in the pacific teams reflects New Zealand's multicultural society with all Samoa and Tonga's Kiwi players qualifying for their respective sides through their parents.

Japan's cashed-up club scene has continued to provide the Brave Blossoms with a flow of talented Kiwis while Scotland has put an emphasis on attracting players like John Hardie who have been playing overseas but are eligible for their side.

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The foreign legion form a formidable XV with the quality to at least make the quarterfinals.

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There are also six New Zealand-born coaches leading other nations at the World Cup – Warren Gatland (Wales), Joe Schmidt (Ireland), Vern Cotter (Scotland), Milton Haig (Georgia), John McKee (Fiji) and Kieran Crowley (Canada).

New Zealand's World Cup foreign legion XV:

15. Tim Nanai-Williams (Samoa)

Born in Auckland, the 26-year-old qualifies for Samoa through his parents. The fleet-footed Counties Manukau and Chiefs utility is one of the most exciting players in rugby. Able to play anywhere in the backline outside halfback, his decision to align himself with Samoa was a big win for the island nation.

14. Joe Tomane (Australia)

The league convert may not have the same high profile as some of his code-hopping peers but he has certainly not looked out of place on the international stage. He has scored four tries in 16 tests. Tomane has lived in Australia since he was three-years-old but the wing was born in Palmerston North.

Other options: Telusa Veainu (Tonga)

13. Jared Payne (Ireland)

If Payne had waited in New Zealand for one more year, he may have had a black jersey on his back rather than a green one. A utility for much of his time in New Zealand, Payne has focused on nailing down the No 13 jersey. He has impressed in his eight tests filling the large gap left by Brian O'Driscoll. Payne was born in Tauranga but moved to Ireland in 2011 and qualifies through residency.

Other options: Siale Piutau and Viliame Tahitu'a (both Tonga)

12. Male Sa'u (Japan)

Sa'u's potential was clear at a young age. The former New Zealand under-19 representative has the ability to bust defences but he left the country before he had the chance to prove himself at the top level. He spent two years with Counties Manukau before going to Japan as a 21-year-old. He was born in Auckland and qualifies for the Brave Blossoms through residency.

Other options: Johnny Leota (Samoa)

11. Sean Maitland (Scotland)

Tokoroa-born Maitland was another rumoured to be in the frame of an All Blacks call-up before he decided to look overseas. Maitland played for national age-group teams before impressing with Canterbury and the Crusaders. He was quickly snapped up by Scotland in 2013 where he proved his international quality.

Other options: Karne Hesketh (Japan) and Will Helu (Tonga).

10. Quade Cooper (Australia)

He is the man Kiwis love to hate but, when he is on song, he is one of the best attacking No 10s in the game. His erratic form has been the biggest blight on his career but that has not stopped him  playing 57 tests for the green and golds. Cooper was born in Auckland, grew up in Tokoroa but moved to Australia as a 13-year-old.

Other options: Kurt Morath (Tonga), Mike Stanley (Samoa) and Michael Wiringi (Romania).

9. Kahn Fotuali'i (Samoa)

At his best, Fotuali'i is one of the best No 9s in the world. He has a crisp pass, great attacking game and his impressive kicking ability has also seen him spend time in the No 10 jersey. He was rumoured to be close to All Blacks selection but opted to play for Samoa in 2010 and has never looked back. He was born in Auckland to Samoan parents.

8. Michael Leitch (Japan)

The powerfully built Christchurch-born loose forward proved his ability with the Chiefs this year as a hard-working No 8. Leitch moved to Japan at just 15 and made his international debut just five years later. Leitch is capable of covering all three positions in the back row.

Other options: Kane Thompson (Samoa).

7. John Hardie (Scotland)

Hardie has been a standout with Southland and the Highlanders for years but after it became clear his path to the All Blacks was blocked, he took advantage of his Scottish ancestry and  made his international debut against Italy last month.

Other options: Jack Ram (Tonga).

6. Jack Lam (Samoa)

Lam made a name for himself as a physical and hard-working No 7 for the Hurricanes in 2011. He played for Tasman and Waikato in the ITM Cup. Lam debuted for Samoa in 2013 and set off for English club Bristol a year later. Born in Hamilton to Samoan parents, Lam spent his high school years in Australia.

Other options: Michael Broadhurst and Justin Ives (both Japan) and Faifili Levave and Hendrik Tui (both Samoa).

5. Dean Mumm (Australia)

The grandson of former All Black Bill Mumm has found himself at home in the Wallabies. With the athletic ability to play in the loose forwards as well as lock, he is one of the hardest-working players in the Australian forward pack. His Wallabies career looked to be over in 2012 when he moved to Wales but he returned to the Waratahs this year and was quickly called back into the national side.

Other options: Filo Paulo (Samoa) and Uili Koko'ofai (Tonga).

4. Will Skelton (Australia)

Skelton will be one of the biggest men to take the field at this World Cup. At 2.03 metres and 140 kilograms, he is a tough man to put down. Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has shown plenty of faith in the 23-year-old. Born in Auckland to Samoan parents, he has lived in Australia since he was 10.

Other options: Lua Lokotui (Samoa) and Luke Thompson (Japan).

3. Uini Antonio (France)

At 1.97m and 146kg, Timaru-born Antonio is a challenge for even the best props to scrum against. French coach Philippe Saint-Andre has been using the former Wesley College student as an impact player with good success since his debut against France last year. Antonio has Samoan parents but qualifies for France through residency.

Other options: Nathan White (Ireland) and Census Johnston (Samoa).

2. Motu Matu'u (Samoa)

Matu'u debuted for the Hurricanes in 2012 and it did not take him long to be recognised as one of the best impact players in the competition. A hard-hitting tackler and strong ball carrier, the 28-year-old is sure to play a big role for Samoa. Born in Wellington to Samoan parents, he made himself available to the island nation this year.

Other options: Paul Ngauamo (Tonga), Ole Avei and Manu Leiataua (both Samoa).

1. Mako Vunipola (England)

Vunipola was born in Wellington but moved to Wales at a young age before his family settled in England. The 26-test veteran is mostly used off the bench but he has the scrummaging and ball-carrying ability to make most international sides. His brother Billy Vunipola was born in Australia and also plays for England.

Other options: Anthony Perenise (Samoa).

 - Stuff


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