World Rugby announces players can change nationality during their career

World Rugby announces players CAN switch nationalities during their careers – in major turn of events – allowing England duo Mako and Billy Vunipola to play for Tonga in the future if they wish

  • The new laws that will strengthen emerging countries’ teams at the 2023 World Cup
  • A player must withdraw from Tests for three years, including non-selection
  • Players must have been born in the country they wish to represent, or their parents or grandparents must have been born there
  • Any player who does change nationality can only do so once in their career



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Rugby players will be able to switch countries from January after World Rugby passed a major change to eligibility laws on Wednesday that will significantly bolster emerging countries’ rosters during the 2023 World Cup.

To change countries, a player must withdraw from Tests for three years, including non-selection, or be born in the country they wish to represent, or have parents or grandparents born there.

They are only allowed to make the switch once in their career.

World Rugby has announced that players will be able to switch countries in a big twist from January

World Rugby has announced that players will be able to switch countries in a big twist from January

The move means ex-New Zealander Charles Piutau (left) may now be eligible to play for Tonga

The move means ex-New Zealander Charles Piutau (left) may now be eligible to play for Tonga

The move means ex-New Zealander Charles Piutau (left) may now be eligible to play for Tonga

Countries in the Pacific Islands will make the most of the change – with the likes of former All Black Charles Piutau, currently in Bristol, and ex-Australian fullback Israel Folau now able to play for their home country, Tonga.

It also means that Billy and Mako Vunipola can end their careers at Tonga if they wish.

But it’s not just those Polynesian nations that will benefit. The new rule, which comes into effect from January 1, 2022, means that a player can transfer from any country to another country – not just a country lower in the rankings.

On that front, players like Zach Mercer and Alex Lozowski, who last played for England in 2018, now qualify for New Zealand and Italy respectively.

However, sports post understands that Italy has had no contact with Saracens’ Lozowski (28) and he still hopes for an addition to his five caps for England, despite coach Eddie Jones not having heard of recently.

The change means Billy Vunipola (center) can transfer from England to Tonga if he wants to

The change means Billy Vunipola (center) can transfer from England to Tonga if he wants to

The change means Billy Vunipola (center) can transfer from England to Tonga if he wants to

Another benefit of the change is that it will release those previously ‘caught’ under an old scheme scrapped in 2017/18, having played for a country’s ‘second nominated side’ – such as England ‘A ‘ or the Junior All Blacks.

Previously, the only way to switch countries was to play in specific Sevens tournaments, a route former All Black Malakai Fekitoa has taken to qualify for Tonga.

This significant rule change required 75 percent support to be ratified, and sources have indicated that: sports post it just “sneaked through” with some nations opposed to it. However, the RFU voted in favor of the change.

World Rugby President Sir Bill Beaumont said: ‘The adoption of this historic regulatory change is the culmination of detailed and widespread modeling and consultation across the game. We have listened to our members and players and tried to update regulations to recognize the modern professional rugby environment without compromising the integrity of the international game.”

International Rugby Players CEO, Omar Hassanein said: ‘The proposal to change the rules on player eligibility is something we have been working on for years with our member associations. Many players around the world will now take advantage of the opportunity to represent the country of their birth or their ancestors, which is a real boost to the competitiveness of emerging countries, which in turn will benefit the game as a whole.”

Alex Lozowski of the Saracens has not played for England since 2018 and has an Italian background

Alex Lozowski of the Saracens has not played for England since 2018 and has an Italian background

Alex Lozowski of the Saracens has not played for England since 2018 and has an Italian background

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