International: 15 players who could switch Test nations to play at the Rugby World Cup

The lure of playing at the Rugby World Cup could see several players switch Test nations through World Rugby’s eligibility laws to feature at the tournament in France.  World Rugby approved a change in rugby’s eligibility laws that came into effect in January 2022, which allows players to represent a second Test nation provided they have 'a close and credible link to that union via birth-right.’ Credit: Alamy
The lure of playing at the Rugby World Cup could see several players switch Test nations through World Rugby’s eligibility laws to feature at the tournament in France. World Rugby approved a change in rugby’s eligibility laws that came into effect in January 2022, which allows players to represent a second Test nation provided they have 'a close and credible link to that union via birth-right.’ Credit: Alamy

The lure of playing at the Rugby World Cup could see several players switch Test nations through World Rugby’s eligibility laws to feature at the tournament in France.

World Rugby approved a change in rugby’s eligibility laws that came into effect in January 2022, which allows players to represent a second Test nation provided they have ‘a close and credible link to that union via birth-right.’

While the likes of Charles Piutau, Jack Dempsey, Fritz Lee, Steven Luatua, Israel Folau and George Moala have already made the switch, we look at 15 other players who could do the same in the year of the tournament.

How does a player transfer to another Test nation?

Before we dive into the players, let’s recap how a player would switch from one Test nation to another under World Rugby’s revised regulation 8.

A player needs to have a close and credible link to the union that they wish to switch to via birth-right.

They can achieve this by achieving the following criteria:

  • The player must stand-down from international rugby for 36 months.

  • The player must either be born in the country to which they wish to transfer or have a parent or grandparent born in that country.

  • Under the revised Regulation 8 criteria, a player may only change union once, and each case will be subject to approval by the World Rugby Regulations Committee to preserve integrity.

Piutau, for example, met these requirements after playing nine Test matches for New Zealand between 2013 and 2015 but only played Test rugby again when he made his debut for Tonga in 2022.

While Piutau was born in New Zealand his parents are from and were born in Tonga, paving the way for him to represent Ikale Tahi.

So with that out the way, let’s take a look at the players who could switch nations in 2023.

Alex Lozowski – England to Italy

Italy head coach Kieran Crowley revealed that he had spoken to Saracens back Lozowski before naming his 2022 Six Nations squad, but the player ultimately decided not to make the switch ahead of the tournament.

The 29-year-old has played five times for England, earning the last of his Test caps in 2018. He is eligible to make the switch to Italy through his Italian grandparent.

While Lozowski turned Italy down in 2022, the side’s upward trajectory could change his mind, as could the temptation of playing in a World Cup. His quality and versatility would be a real asset to the Italian squad.

John Cooney – Ireland to Scotland

Ulster scrum-half Cooney could trade Ireland for Scotland through his Scottish father.

Cooney has represented the country of his birth, Ireland, 11 times, with his most recent cap coming in the 2020 Six Nations defeat to England.

He is eligible to switch to Scotland from Ireland on February 23 next year, meaning he would miss the first two rounds of the competition but debut against France and play against Ireland and Italy.

Earlier this year, the 32-year-old did not rule out the switch when he spoke on the BBC’s Ulster Rugby Show, saying: “Half of my family live in Scotland, and my dad is a proud Scotsman. I have to make sure everything is right with me with Ulster in terms of the contract and stuff like that.”

Julian Savea – New Zealand to Samoa

While Ardie Savea was named All Blacks player of the year for his efforts in 2022, his brother Julian has not played for New Zealand since the 2017 British and Irish Lions series.

Savea endured a testing stint at Toulon but looked to be back playing some of his best rugby for the Hurricanes this year. However, his form was not enough to convince the All Blacks’ coaches that he deserved a Test recall.

After representing the All Blacks 54 times, scoring 46 tries, Savea is eligible to switch to Samoa through his parents.

Morgan Parra – France to Portugal

After earning 71 Test caps for France and representing Les Bleus and three Rugby World Cups, Parra could make another World Cup appearance in Portugal colours.

He played the last of his Test matches during the 2019 World Cup and could switch to the Os Lobos, thanks to his Portuguese father, Antonio.

The 34-year-old did retire from international rugby, but again, the lure of playing at another Rugby World Cup could tempt him out of retirement, especially considering that it is Portugal’s first tournament since 2007.

Tawera Kerr-Barlow – New Zealand to Australia

Early this year, Kerr-Barlow made himself available for selection for the Wallabies.

The former All Blacks scrum-half has played Test rugby for five years but is eligible for Australia, the country of his birth.

He won the Rugby World Cup with the All Blacks in 2015 and earned the last of his 27 Test caps in 2018 against South Africa.

“I am available to play for the Wallabies! I was born there. I have a lot of ties in this country, and if the coaching staff calls me, I will go without hesitation. It would be a great opportunity, but for the moment, I am focused on La Rochelle,” he told Rugby Rama.

Nathan Hughes – England to Fiji

Now plying his trade in Japan, Hughes could add to the plethora of talent Fiji have in their back-row.

He earned the last of his 22 caps for England in 2019, and having been born in Fiji; he is already eligible for the nation.

Sergio Parisse – Italy to Argentina

Another unlikely switch but one that is still possible, as Parisse could represent the country he was born in despite playing 142 times for Italy.

The 39-year-old still represents Toulon in the Top 14 and last played for the Azzurri during the 2019 Rugby World Cup. He has put his retirement on hold to play one more time for Italy, but his plan has been thwarted several times.

Could a shock switch to Argentina be on the cards?

Lima Sopoaga – New Zealand to Samoa

From an unlikely switch to one that is very possible, former All Black Sopoaga has openly expressed his desire to represent Samoa and almost did so under the older regulations.

He explained on James Marshall’s What A Lad podcast last year that he planned to use the Olympic loophole to represent Samoa after earning 16 caps for New Zealand between 2015 and 2017.

“I tried to do the switch like Malakai [Fekitoa]. He played in Monaco, and I wanted to be a part of that with the [Samoan] sevens set-up. It just didn’t work out, because my voucher [for return to New Zealand] was for 16 June and we couldn’t get it moved so that me and my whole family could come back. We had already booked our flights,” Sopoaga said.

Sopoaga has been sidelined since July, further delaying his Test switch, which could happen in Samoa’s first match of the new year.

Zach Mercer – England to New Zealand

Mercer returning from France to sign for Gloucester ahead of the 2023/24 Premiership season indicates that he is keen to reignite his Test career with England.

However, the number eight can switch allegiance to New Zealand if he wishes as he qualifies for the All Blacks through his father, who played 21 rugby league Tests for New Zealand in his career.

Byron McGuigan – Scotland to Namibia

Namibian-born McGuigan has recently been in and out of the Scotland squad, but his last cap came during the 2020 Six Nations.

The 33-year-old is eligible to represent Namibia from February 22 next year and could make the timely Test switch and pick up his Rugby World Cup debut.

Alec Hepburn – England to Australia

The Exeter Chiefs prop was born in Perth and earned six caps for England, all in 2018.

He was eligible to make the switch in 2021 already, but Australia’s policies around selecting overseas-based players have made it difficult for him to make the move if he wishes, as has the Wallabies’ depth in the front-row.

If he is keen to do so, he may need to sign a deal with an Australian Super Rugby side to become eligible or would require a change in Australia’s selection policy.

Taqele Naiyaravoro – Australia to Fiji

Fiji are stacked with options on the wing, but the imposing frame of Naiyaravoro could be a valuable asset at the World Cup.

The 31-year-old is currently playing in the Japan Rugby League One following his stint at Northampton Saints.

Born in Fiji, he played two Tests for Australia, the last of which was in 2016.

Henry Speight – Australia to Fiji

Another former Wallaby could trade the Gold and Green for the Flying Fijians.

34-year-old Speight was also born in Fiji and represented Australia 19 times between 2014 and 2017.

Tevita Kuridrani – Australia to Fiji

Like Naiyaravoro and Speight, Kuridrani was born in Fiji.

The veteran centre went on to amass over 130 appearances for the Brumbies and was a mainstay in the Wallabies squad between 2013 and 2019, earning 61 caps and played at two Rugby World Cups.

Now plying his trade at Biarritz, Kuridrani could switch to Fiji, granted he can crack the nod in another well-stocked position.

Denny Solomona – England to Samoa

Former Sale Sharks speedster Solomona was born in New Zealand and is now eligible to represent the All Blacks and Samoa.

He earned five Test caps for England in 2017 but could make the switch to the country he represented in rugby league, Samoa.

READ MORE: Planet Rugby’s seven players to watch in 2023

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