The lack of rugby (and sport in general) during the COVID-19 pandemic is driving me insane, so in a need for a rugby fix, I have started putting together a couple of “Pick an XV” articles. I was throwing about ideas with my god friend and occasional contributor Gez a few nights ago and he made a great suggestion: creating a starting XV of players who would have been eligible to play for multiple nations.

Per World Rugby regulation 8, a Player may only play for the senior fifteen-aside National Representative Team, the next senior fifteen-a-side National Representative Team and the senior National Representative Sevens Team of the Union of the country in which:

  1. he was born; or
  2. one parent or grandparent was born; or
  3. he has completed thirty six consecutive months of Residence immediately preceding the time of playing. 

The 3-year residency rule is set to extend to 5 years from the end of 2020.

A player who has been capped for one nation can become eligible for another nation by completing a period of 3 years without selection for the original nation, then playing in an Olympic event (rugby 7s Olympic Games/Olympic qualifying events) for the new nation.

For this, I am only picking from players who are currently playing the game. I am also going on knowledge that is out there, so there may very much be a player who was eligible for multiple countries due to family links, but due to committing early to his country of birth and residence, those links have not come out.

Who would make your XV?

1: Mako Vunipola:- Where else to start but England and Lions prop Mako Vunipola. He may have become one of the best looseheads in World Rugby and become a key component of the England pack, but he qualified for England on residency, having been born in New Zealand to Tongan parents. His father Feʻao Vunipola represented Tonga at the 1995 and 1999 Rugby World Cups.

2: Joe Taufete’e:- I was initially going to select former France captain Guilhem Guirado, who is of Catalan descent so was eligible for Spain, but as he is no longer playing internationally, I chose to call a late audible and select 2019 World Rugby Player of the Year nominee Joe Taufete’e. The hooker is of Samoan descent and was born in American Samoa, but moved to California aged 5. He has gone on to represent the USA at 2 World Cups so far and has scored more tries than any other tight five player in international rugby history (20 in 27 games).

3: W.P. Nel:- As you can probably tell by the name Willem Petrus Nel, the tighthead is South African by birth but moved to Scotland in the summer of 2012 to join Edinburgh. He made his Scotland debut in 2015 after completing a 3-year residency period and went on to become a key part of the squad, though injuries have denied him the chance to earn as many caps as he should have.

4: Paul Willemse:- Much like Nel, the surname probably gives it away, but Willemse was born in Pretoria before moving to Namibia in his youth and then later back to South Africa. He represented Namibia U18 and South Africa U20, but moved to France in 2014. Having completed the residency period and obtaining French nationality, he made his debut for Les Bleus in the 2019 Six Nations. While he struggled to hold down a spot in the squad under Jacques Brunel, he has quickly become a key figure in Fabien Galthié’s new-look, resurgent French team.

5: George Kruis:- A key component for Saracens and England, George Kruis is a lineout general who is arguably underrated in the loose. The lock has 45 England caps and 3 caps for the British and Irish Lions, but could have instead chosen to represent the Netherlands as his father is Dutch.

6: CJ Stander:- Christiaan Johan Stander becomes the third South African to move abroad on this list, having represented the Baby Boks at U18 and U20 level. After being considered too small to play back row for the Springboks, he was left with the choice of trying to convert to hooker or moving abroad. Stander joined Munster in June 2012 and qualified for Ireland through residency the day after the RWC2015 final. Able to play at 8 or 6, I feel that he is more consistently strong at blindside, where he can carry hard, tackle hard and cause a nuisance at the breakdown. He’ll be hoping to make the British and Irish Lions squad next year to show SARU just how big a mistake they made.

7: David Pocock:- One of my favourite players of the modern game, Pocock is one of the best opensides to play in the last decade. Australia have had the joy of being able to pair him with Michael Hooper, but Pocock was also eligible to play for Zimbabwe, having been born in Gweru but fleeing the country during the unrest created by the government’s land seizure and redistribution campaign.

8: Grégory Alldritt:- Number 8 was such a hard position to pick due to the sheer number of top quality options – especially when you consider both of the flankers I picked also cover 8! If this was 4 years ago, I would have picked Italian captain Sergio Parisse, who was born in Argentina. Tongan-born Welsh back row Taulupe Faletau was an option but injuries have severely hampered his career in recent years. Billy Vunipola was going to be my pick here but considering I already have his brother Mako in the squad, I called an audible and selected Alldritt, who was starring in the Six Nations for Les Bleus but would have qualified for Ireland through his grandparents.

9: Ali Price:- Scrum half was probably the hardest position to pick in terms of limited options, but I settled eventually on Scotland’s current starter. Price’s Scottish eligibility is through his mother, but he was born in King’s Lynn and was educated in Cambridgeshire. He moved from Bedford to Glasgow Warriors in 2013 as part of their Elite Development Programme. He has formed a good one-two punch with Greig Laidlaw in recent years but his former captain’s international retirement has now seen Price take on the lead role ahead of his Glasgow understudy George Horne.

10: Gareth Anscombe:- When New Zealand defeated England in the 2011 IRB Junior World Championship, they had future All Blacks fly halves Lima Sopoaga and Beauden Barrett starting at 12 and 15 respectively. At fly half that day was Gareth Anscombe. In 2014, Anscombe moved to the Cardiff Blues and he made his Wales debut in August 2015, courtesy of his Cardiff-born mother. Though it took a few years to solidify his place in the squad, it looked as if he had earned the number 10 shirt for the World Cup until a knee injury put him out for the season.

11: Marika Koroibete:- Koroibete has been one of the best, most consistent players for Australia in recent years and was a great pick-up for the Wallabies, but this was due to him qualifying on residency. He is in fact a dual-code international, having represented Fiji, the country of his birth, in rugby league.

12: Bundee Aki:- There were a few ways that I could have gone with this selection. New Zealand-born Hadleigh Parkes qualified for Wales on residency, while Fijian-born Samu Kerevi has become the man for Australia. They both just missed out in place of Bundee Aki, who qualified for Ireland on residency, but was born in New Zealand and is of Samoan descent.

13: Manu Tuilagi:- France’s Fijian superstar Virimi Vakatawa was very close to making the list, but loses out to Manu Tuilagi. Born in Samoa in 1991, Tuilagi moved to Cardiff in 2004 and then onto Leicester. The youngest of 7 children (5 of whom have represented Samoa), Manu chose to play for England as this was where he had grown up and played all of his rugby.

14: Sevu Reece:- A newer name on the scene but one to remember, Sevu Reece topped the try scoring charts for the 2019 Super Rugby Season before going on to play for the All Blacks at RWC2019. He was born in Fiji and grew up there, moving to New Zealand in 2014.

15: Charles Piutau:- The fullback played at U20 level for both Tonga and New Zealand before committing to the All Blacks (though brother Siale went on to captain Tonga). Piutau made 17 appearances for the All Blacks but missed out on selection for RWC2015 and has since been ineligible due to playing outside New Zealand, playing starring roles for Wasps, Ulster and Bristol. How great would it have been to see him representing Tonga over the past decade? Aged 28, there is still time for him to play for Tonga, as he has gone long enough since being capped by New Zealand that playing an Olympic Qualifying event for Tonga’s 7s team would make him eligible for the 15-a-side team.

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