Twenty players will wear the jersey of a new team during the Rugby World Cup in France, after having already played for another country. They benefit from an adjustment of the international rules which especially favor the small nations of the Pacific, whose talents have long been plundered by their powerful neighbors.
Published on: 06/09/2023 – 06:59
If the color of Jean Kleyn’s jersey remains green, a protea flower has bloomed in place of the clover at heart level, next to a leaping springbok. This second line, born and trained in South Africa, joined the Irish province of Munster in 2016 before joining the XV of Clover with which he played the 2019 World Cup. An Irish selection that he could face, on September 23, with South Africa since the two teams are in the same pool.
Jean Kleyn, 30, was able to benefit from a change in the eligibility rule adopted in November 2021 by World rugby, the body which manages world rugby. A player can now join a new selection if he has not played for 36 months with the national team whose colors he previously defended. And he must be born in the country he wants to play for, or have a parent or grandparent born in that country. Previously, a player who had a senior selection for one nation could not aspire to represent another in his career.
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This new rule will also allow former Moldovan international Gheorghe Gajion to play in his first World Cup. This player from Mont-de-Marsan has joined the ranks of Romania, which is playing in its ninth World Cup. He was first capped in March 2022, nearly four years after he last wore the Moldova shirt. And this pillar could well cross paths with Jean Kleyn on the lawn of Bordeaux, on September 17, during the pool match between South Africa and Romania.
Three other teams have picked up one player each: former Australian internationals Richard Hardwick (2 caps) and Jack Dempsey (14 caps) joined Namibia and Scotland respectively, while ex-England prop Henry Thomas (7 caps) plays with the Welsh selection,
Ex-All Black Charles Faumuina joins Samoa
Pacific nations have been campaigning for this change in international regulations for many years. It helps to mitigate the departure of many nuggets from these islands to Australia, New Zealand, Japan or various European nations. A sporting exodus partially compensated by the return of experienced players wishing to help the selections of their countries of birth or origin.
Ex-New Zealand international Charles Faumuina is the perfect example. He has 50 caps with New Zealand and a world championship title in 2015. Arrived in 2017 at Stade Toulousain, he ended his career as a professional player in June with a French championship title which was added to an already very rich track record. But he wanted to take up a final challenge at the age of 36 by joining Samoa, the country of his parents.
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Other former All Blacks have made a similar choice for this World Cup: fly-half Lima Sopoaga and third row Steven Luatua, as well as Fritz Lee and Ben Lam who previously played for the New Zealand rugby union team. 7. The sixth Samoan ‘defector’ is fly-half Christian Leali’ifano, who represented Australia at the 2019 World Cup. A player who could possibly face his former teammates in the quarter-finals if Samoa realize the feat of qualifying for the finals.
“Bringing something great to Tonga”
Samoa have already reached the quarter-finals twice, in 1991 and 1995. To repeat this feat, they will have to finish in one of the first two places in Pool D in which they will face Argentina, the England, Japan and Chile. And the contribution of these experienced players can be decisive in their quest.
Tongans harbor the same hopes. They will play the World Cup with six new players who have previously played for New Zealand in rugby union or sevens: Charles Piutau, Georges Moala, Vaea Fifita, Augustin Pulu, Pita Ahki and Malakai Fekitoa. The latter, world champion with New Zealand in 2015, explained his choice on his Instagram account. “I am very proud to have played for the best team in the world, but at the same time I want to bring something great to Tonga, my country, my homeland where my heart belongs,” wrote Malakai Fekitoa in June 2021 , after having obtained the right to change selection through the Tongan Olympic rugby sevens team.
Three players who represented Australia (Adam Coleman and Afusipa Taumoepeau) and Hong Kong (Tau Koloamatangi) were also selected by Samoa. And the list could have been even longer without the injury of Israel Folau, former Wallabies star back, who was expected to join the group of 33.
With these precious reinforcements, Tonga and Samoa have even more reason to shake the great powers of world rugby. The nations of the Pacific have already achieved surprising performances in the past, like the Fijians who beat the Welsh in 2007 (38-34) or the Tongans who defeated the Blues (19-14) during the 2011 World Cup And they have the ambition to take a new step in France, in the wake of Fiji who have just climbed to 7th place in the world rankings after a resounding victory against England (30-22).