Manu Samoa unlikely to use 7s qualifying loophole

Samoa sevens coach Sir Gordon Tietjens says he's had no discussions with players wanting to switch their international allegiance to the Manu in time for the 2019 Rugby World Cup or Tokyo Olympics.

Four years ago Tim Nanai-Williams switched allegiance from New Zealand to Samoa, playing in four tournaments on the global sevens circuit to make himself eligible for the Manu Samoa fifteen-a-side team.

The criteria has since changed, with players wanting to switch now required to compete in five tournaments in the current sevens season, which doubles as an Olympic qualifier, provided they have a passport for the second country and have completed a minimum three year stand-down period.

Former All Blacks Ma'a Nonu, Victor Vito and Isaia Toeava and are among the names that have been mooted as experienced internationals who might want to revive their test careers with the Manu in 2019.

All three have played sevens for New Zealand under Sir Gordon Tietjens but the veteran coach said, while there's been a lot of speculation, he has not spoken with any players about coming into the sevens fold this season.

"Not at this present moment. We haven't had discussions with anyone really but there's obviously a lot of speculation out there about who might put their hand up and want to become available," he said.

"But we will certainly address that if that happens to come around later on but for now getting off to a good start in the World Series (is our focus) and to get off to a good start you've got to do well in these first two tournaments and certainly that's primarily our focus moving forward."

In July, the Samoa Rugby Union said it had held initial discussions with players who have previously been capped by other national teams about going down the same path.

https://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/363036/sport-manu-s...

But Sir Gordon indicated any discussions about strengthening Samoa's 15-a-side squad have not been shared with him.

"Not at the moment. We haven't discussed players at the moment moving forward to the Olympics. Obviously with the Rugby World Cup that's probably discussions that will be taking place amongst, I suppose, people who are involved with the Manu team.

"Any player that puts their hand up and wishes to try and qualify to play for Samoa has to play at five tournaments (on the Sevens World Series) at the Olympics and of course that would put them in stead to be selected for the Manu Samoan team to go to Rugby World Cup.

"So that's obviously a challenge and I think there's also a three year stand-down from when they last played for their previous country."

Pacific neighbours Tonga had hoped to qualify former All Blacks Charles Piutau - brother of 'Ikale Tahi captain Siale Piutau - and Frank Halai, among others, via the sevens route in time for the 2019 World Cup.

But because the Kingdom is not a permament fixture on the World Sevens Series they were relying to qualifying players at the 2019 Oceania Sevens, which is also an Olympic qualifying tournament.

The event takes place every year in November and 'Ikale Tahi coach Toutai Kefu said their efforts to move the tournament to before the World Cup was unsuccessful.

"That was shut down. We found that out (in September) that it wouldn't be possible to qualify those players before the Rugby World Cup," he said.

"As it stands now that tournament is after the (2019 Rugby) World Cup in November some time. I think there's a tournament after the World Cup - an Oceania qualifying Olympic (event)..."

"That was the one we wanted to move before the World Cup so that we can qualify those players but we were too late to try and change that so it stands as it is in November and we can probably look to qualify those players then (to play for the 'Ikale Tahi from 2020)."