In the July issue of Rugby World, the former All Black talks exclusively about switching to Tonga


Charles Piutau on Tonga call-ups

It finally happened. Tonga have for the first time taken advantage of the World Rugby eligibility amendment to allow national switches, meaning that former All Blacks and Wallabies can pull on the red jersey of the ‘Ikale Tahi – including Bristol Bears playmaker Charles Piutau.

The full-back, who last represented New Zealand in 2015, has been named in the Tonga squad for the upcoming Pacific Nations Cup and Rugby World Cup 2023 qualifier.

Scrum-half Augustine Pulu, who played two Tests for the All Blacks in 2014, and former Wallaby Israel Folau are others who have taken advantage of the eligibility change.

Piutau is the cover star of the next issue of Rugby World magazine – dubbed ‘the global issue’ – and he talks exclusively about what it means to represent his Tongan heritage.

“I never thought that would come to pass,” Piutau tells Rugby World in the new issue, on sale 31 May. “Like, there had always been talk of it (the eligibility amendment) and it would never happen. So for that to finally come through definitely caught me by surprise.

“I wasn’t expecting it to pass but yeah, I was definitely pretty happy in finding out that happened! And then it was realising that the opportunity for me to play for Tonga had now become real.”

As well as talking about thinking his window to switch had slammed shut and what it means to help bring on young Pacific Islanders, Piutau is also asked about whether larger nations will take advantage of the new eligibility tweaks.

To this he says: “The first thing for me is that it gives a good opportunity for a player to represent both of their heritages or countries they can play for. In terms of teams and how they benefit, the biggest benefit is always going to be the Tier Two nations.

“The All Blacks can’t get much better and they have this big pool of talent they will try to secure first (before looking for switches). Will it happen? Maybe. But it comes back to the player. If they eventually want to represent a New Zealand or an Australia and they can, for me as a player I’d say, ‘Why not?’ I never want to take away opportunities.

“For fans and other people, they may have a different perspective but I’ve grown up with New Zealand and Tonga as the two countries close to me, and for me the best thing I could do is represent both of them.”

You can read more from the full Charles Piutau interview in the July 2022 edition of Rugby World, which goes on sale 31 May.

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