Amidst controversy over eligibility loopholes and French poaching lists, here are ten players eligible for Tier 2 sides who could star in the World Cup. While it’s hard to compete with the prestige and financial reward of playing for a Tier 1 nation, perhaps the chance of appearing in the big show in England will be enough to bring them over to one of the ‘little guys’.
If one player could walk into any Tier 2 side and make an immediate difference, it’s probably this guy. Wellington born and a New Zealand u20 rep, Sopoaga has understandably expressed his desire to play for the All Blacks, but with Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, and a host of other contenders set to dominate the jersey for the forseeable future, it’s not too far fetched to think that a shot at the World Cup in the blue jersey of the Manu could sway him. Who wouldn’t want to watch him shine on the world stage with the likes of Kahn Fotuali’i, Alapati Leiua, and the Pisi brothers?
Born in Sydney, he spent his childhood living in Suva before returning to Australia at age 9. After starring with the Australian u20 side he burst onto the scene with the Waratahs a couple years ago but has been largely ignored since. Tall and lanky, he has a good step to go with solid distribution skills and a useful boot, both out of hand and from the tee. With a Wallaby cap starting to look unlikely, a long run in the Fijian no10 shirt could be on the cards.
The past few months have seen the big Fijian dynamo emerge as a genuine test contender after some sparkling performances with Wasps. Hughes has represented the Fiji Warriors already but remains eligible for both Fiji and Samoa. Some media have even suggested that he pass on the World Cup in order to qualify for England on residency. Let’s hope it’s the white jersey of Fiji that he’s wearing when the tournament kicks off next September 18.
Another from Wellington with deep Samoan roots, Matu’u is stuck behind Dane Coles at the Hurricanes and at 27 is a bit past being a project player. Though he has been invited to train with the All Blacks, his best shot at test rugby is certainly with the Manu. Even there he would have to fight for a starting jersey with Ole Avei, Ti’i Paulo, and probably John Ulugia all in contention, but he would at least merit a spot as an impact sub with his trademark tackles sending shivers down opposing spines.
An exciting halfback with all the skills and big game temperament, Pulu has added leadership to his CV by taking on the captaincy this season with Counties Manukau. Firmly behind Tawera Kerr-Barlow at the Chiefs and similarly overlooked by the All Blacks, he could choose to play for either Samoa or Tonga at the World Cup. With Kahn Fotuali’i starring for the Manu, it could be the Ikale Tahi who win his services.
Long considered one of the best players not to have won an All Black cap, it’s somewhat of a surprise that he hasn’t opted to turn out for Tonga. With the World Cup fast approaching though and his New Zealand chances slim and none, it might at last be his time to step into the red jersey. His intelligence and leadership skills would be a huge boost to a side with great potential but few genuinely class performers to take them to the next level.
If Manu doesn’t commit to Tonga, they could look to this Melbourne Rising behemoth instead. Of course there’s no reason they couldn’t both be accomodated, with Timani capable of playing lock or coming in off the bench. This all depends on whether Ewen McKenzie expresses any interest, which doesn’t appear to have come so far given the inclusion of Jake Schatz in the test side this week, despite Timani tearing it up in the NRC. Perhaps a word from big brother Sitaleki might convince him that World Cup exposure and the mighty euro are worth more than the lure of a potential Wallaby cap.
The Aucklander has proven himself a quality finisher at both ITM Cup and Super Rugby level, but remains well out of contention for an All Black jersey. Wearing the red jersey would not be a new thing, having represented Tonga in both the 2009 and 2010 Junior World Championships. While he would have some stiff competition in both the midfield and on the wing, he could well find himself in the run-on side of what could be Tonga’s strongest ever World Cup squad.
It’s props that the Eagles are in need of most, but barring that a beefy tighthead lock would be nice too. Surely they would welcome the giant Australian with open arms. Qualified through an American father, the North Harbour Rays captain has struggled to get a look-in at the Waratahs and is currently without a Super Rugby contract. His considerable ballast would help steady a dodgy American scrum and while he isn’t the fastest bloke in studs, he invariably gets over the gainline in heavy traffic.
Technically Namibia is only Tier 3, but they will be at the World Cup so we can make an exception. Bresler grew up in South Africa and has played all of his rugby there before signing for Edinburgh, but was born in Windhoek so remains eligible to play for the Welwitschias. With a myriad of options available to the Springboks and Scottish eligibility a good three years away, perhaps the abrasive lock could be convinced to bolster his country of birth at the world’s biggest tournament next year. Perhaps a phone call from Jacques Burger might do the trick.