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Foreign-born players at RWC 2015

A popular topic of debate heading into the World Cup is that of eligibility, particularly that resulting from the residency method. Americas Rugby News takes an in-depth look at the foreign-born players in each squad, where they were born and how they are eligible.

An interesting fact – only Argentina can claim that all 31 players in their squad are native to their country. The other 19 teams all have players born abroad, including significant numbers in some of rugby’s most powerful nations.

All told, Rugby World Cup 2015 will have a grand total of 33 countries involved in the tournament. Surprisingly, Africa leads the way with Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Zimbabwe joining the participating Namibia and South Africa. Zimbabwe has players representing four countries, more than any other non-competitor.

Spain is another to have athletes representing multiple countries while other countries include Belgium, Israel, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia, and the Netherlands are also all represented. Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa lead the way in terms of players representing others at the World Cup.

SAMOA (13) The country with the largest number of players from abroad is Samoa. All of Samoa’s players born in another country are New Zealanders who are eligible based on having one or both parents from Samoa. A handful of them have previously represented other nations at other levels. Ole Avei played for Australia u21, both Kane Thompson and Faifili Levave for New Zealand u21, Jack Lam spent two years in the Australia Secondary Schools side, and Tim Nanai-Williams was a New Zealand 7s international before using the Olympic loophole to switch his allegiance during the past year.

Ole Avei HO New Zealand Parent
Manu Leiataua HO New Zealand Parent
Motu Matu’u HO New Zealand Parent
Census Johnston THP New Zealand Parent
Anthony Perenise THP New Zealand Parent
Filo Paulo LO New Zealand Parent
Kane Thompson LO New Zealand Parent
Jack Lam FL New Zealand Parent
Faifili Levave FL New Zealand Parent
Kahn Fotuali’i SH New Zealand Parent
Mike Stanley FH New Zealand Parent
Johnny Leota CE New Zealand Parent
Tim Nanai-Williams FB New Zealand Parent

WALES (12) Wales is a Tier 1 nation packed with players born abroad. To suggest they are there on eligibility grounds, though, would be very misleading. Most of the foreign-born players in the squad grew up in Wales, with props Tomas Francis and Aaron Jarvis, second row Jake Ball, and wing Alex Cuthbert the exceptions. The number increased from 10 to 12 following the losses of Eli Walker and Scott Williams. His replacement, Ross Moriarty, is the son of Paul Moriarty who played in Rugby World Cup 1987 for his native Wales. New Zealander Gareth Anscombe similarly was called up to replace an injured player.

EDIT NOTE: Matthew Morgan was erroneously listed as having been born in England. In fact he was born in Swansea, Wales. The numbers have been adjusted to reflect that error.

Tomas Francis THP England Grandparent
Aaron Jarvis THP England Grandparent
Jake Ball LO England Parent
Luke Charteris LO England Residency (1986)
James King FL Australia Residency (1993)
Dan Lydiate FL England Parent
Ross Moriarty FL England Parent
Toby Faletau N8 Tonga Residency (2001)
Matthew Morgan FH England Residency (2003)
Alex Cuthbert WI England Parent
George North WI England Parent
Hallam Amos FB England Residency (2004)
Gareth Anscombe FB New Zealand Parent

TONGA (12) Tonga is comparable to neighboring Samoa in that there is a large section of the World Cup roster who qualify based on their parents, having left to live in developed countries. Also like Samoa, many of Tonga’s foreign legion happen to be players who never played rugby in Tonga prior to senior tests. Tevita Mailau, Paul Ngauamo, Siale Piutau, and Telusa Veainu all played for New Zealand at age grade level, and Steve Mafi was an Australia u20 international before opting for the country of his father.

Tevita Mailau PR Australia Parent
Paul Ngauamo HO New Zealand Parent
Uili Kolo’ofai LO New Zealand Parent
Lua Lokotui LO New Zealand Parent
Steve Mafi LO Australia Parent
Joe Tu’ineau LO Fiji Parent
Jack Ram FL Australia Parent
Kurt Morath FH New Zealand Parent
Siale Piutau CE New Zealand Parent
Viliami Tahitu’a CE New Zealand Parent
Will Helu WI New Zealand Parent
Telusa Veainu WI New Zealand Parent

SCOTLAND (12) The players qualify based on a variety of criteria with some qualifying based on living in the country while others have parents or grandparents from Scotland. A number of players involved were selected based on their ancestry before ever playing a match in the country. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne moved to Scotland at an early age, while the three residency players were earmarked for Scottish duty the moment they signed their contracts. Blair Cowan joined the squad during the pool phase as a replacement for Grant Gilchrist, giving Scotland more players from abroad than Japan.

W.P. Nel THP South Africa Residency (2015)
Tim Swinson LO England Grandparent
John Hardie FL New Zealand Grandparent
Ryan Wilson FL England Grandparent
Blair Cowan FL New Zealand Parent
David Denton N8 Zimbabwe Parent
Josh Strauss N8 South Africa Residency (2015)
Sam Hidalgo-Clyne SH Spain Parent
Henry Pyrgos SH England Parent
Sean Maitland WI New Zealand Grandparent
Tommy Seymour WI USA Parent
Tim Visser WI Netherlands Residency (2013)

JAPAN (11) Unsurprisingly the Brave Blossoms have a number of expatriate internationals, with most originally coming to Japan on professional contracts. Koliniasi Holani and Michael Leitch both moved to the country for school as teenagers, while Amanaki Mafi arrived for university. Kotaro Matsushima split his schooling between South Africa and Japan, the home country of his mother.

Luke Thompson LO New Zealand Residency (2007)
Michael Broadhurst FL New Zealand Residency (2012)
Justin Ives FL New Zealand Residency (2011)
Michael Leitch FL New Zealand Residency (2007)
Hendrik Tui FL New Zealand Residency (2012)
Koliniasi Holani N8 Tonga Residency (2001)
Amanaki Mafi N8 Tonga Residency (2013)
Male Sa’u CE New Zealand Residency (2011)
Craig Wing CE Australia Residency (2013)
Karne Hesketh WI New Zealand Residency (2013)
Kotaro Matsushima WI South Africa Parent

FRANCE (10) Arguably the most curious case of all is France, whose head coach has selected many foreigners in positions in which there are countless options of quality players. Why a country with 30 fully professional clubs to choose from should make such a decision is a question only Philippe Saint-André can answer. African imports Yannick Nyanga, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Sofiane Guitoune, and captain Thierry Dusautoir all moved to France during their childhoods, while Vincent Debaty arrived to pursue a professional career at the age of 18.

Vincent Debaty LHP Belgium Residency (2002)
Uini Atonio THP New Zealand Residency (2014)
Thierry Dusautoir FL Cote d’Ivoire Parent
Bernard le Roux FL South Africa Residency (2012)
Yannick Nyanga FL DR Congo Residency (1987)
Fulgence Ouedraogo FL Burkina Faso Residency (1989)
Rory Kockott SH South Africa Residency (2014)
Sofiane Guitoune WI Algeria Residency (2002)
Noa Nakaitaci WI Fiji Residency (2014)
Scott Spedding FB South Africa Residency (2011)

AUSTRALIA (9) The multicultural Wallabies roster may at first glance appear to be a gathering of players groomed elsewhere, but only Henry Speight did not play schoolboy rugby in Australia, instead having done so in New Zealand. Will Skelton and Tevita Kuridrani played u20 rugby for Samoa and Fiji respectively, but each did so while still residing in Australia.

Stephen Moore HO Saudi Arabia Residency (1991)
Dean Mumm LO New Zealand Residency (1987)
Will Skelton LO New Zealand Residency (1995)
David Pocock FL Zimbabwe Residency (2005)
Will Genia SH Papua New Guinea Residency (2003)
Quade Cooper FH New Zealand Residency (2004)
Tevita Kuridrani CE Fiji Residency (2010)
Henry Speight WI Fiji Residency (2014)
Joe Tomane WI New Zealand Residency (1996)

ITALY (9) Often criticized as failing to produce home-grown talent, Italy is fielding fewer players from abroad at this year’s World Cup than was the case in years gone by. The flow of Argentine players into the country has decreased and a new generation of quality home-grown backs is now taking shape. Fijian loose forward Samuela Vunisa is unique in being the only Italian squad member qualifying on residency since the last World Cup. The three injury-enforced changes to the roster during the World Cup were all Italian born.

Matías Agüero LHP Argentina Residency (2004)
Martín Castrogiovanni THP Argentina Grandparent
Dario Chistolini THP South Africa Parent
Joshua Furno LO Australia Parent
Quintin Geldenhuys LO South Africa Residency (2008)
Sergio Parisse N8 Argentina Parent
Samuela Vunisa N8 Fiji Residency (2014)
Gonzalo García CE Argentina Grandparent
Luke McLean FB Australia Grandparent

USA (9) In previous World Cups the USA has been closer to being among the leading countries in terms of players born abroad. Their number could even be lower had Scott LaValla not been forced out of the World Cup through injury and former captain Todd Clever mot been dropped by the coaching staff. All of their players selected on residency moved to the country either for education or employment reasons. The Suniula brothers – Andrew and Shalom – were born in American Samoa, and while not a state it is still technically a US territory.

Mate Moeakiola PR Tonga Residency (2004)
Greg Peterson LO Australia Grandparent
Hayden Smith LO Australia Residency (2008)
Al McFarland FL Australia Residency (2015)
John Quill FL Ireland Parent
Matt Trouville N8 Australia Residency (2014)
Niku Kruger SH South Africa Residency (2015)
A.J. MacGinty FH Ireland Residency (2015)
Taku Ngwenya WI Zimbabwe Residency (2006)

IRELAND (7) Compared to the two other Celtic nations, Ireland has relatively few players from abroad but has the same number as Scotland qualifying on residency grounds. The trio all found themselves playing in Ireland after having been notable players in their own rights in their native country. Jamie Heaslip and Jordi Murphy were both born while their Irish parents were working abroad. Isaac Boss and Mike McCarthy joined later as injury cover.

Richardt Strauss HO South Africa Residency (2012)
Nathan White THP New Zealand Residency (2014)
Mike McCarthy LO England Parent
Jamie Heaslip N8 Israel Parent
Jordi Murphy N8 Spain Parent
Issac Boss SH New Zealand Grandparent
Jared Payne CE New Zealand Residency (2014)

NEW ZEALAND (6) The reputation of ‘poaching’ players from the Pacific Islands is a subject which infuriates many a New Zealander. Any true rugby supporter has witnessed or read an argument with a kiwi defending his country against inaccuracies regarding players said to have been plucked from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga who were, in fact, born and raised in New Zealand. In addition, the likes of Olo Brown, Mils Muliaina, Joe Rokocoko, and the late Jerry Collins arrived in New Zealand as infants. The rosters above indeed showcase many New Zealand-born players of Pacific Island heritage. Of those currently on the All Blacks roster, only Malakai Fekitoa and Waisake Naholo qualify on residency in recent years, both having moved to New Zealand during their teens and subsequently picking up scholarships.

Ben Franks PR Australia Parent
Pauliasi Manu PR Tonga Residency
Jerome Kaino FL American Samoa Residency (1990)
Tawera Kerr-Barlow SH Australia Parent
Malakai Fekitoa CE Tonga Residency (2012)
Waisake Naholo WI Fiji Residency (2012)

CANADA (6) With only five players on the initial roster born outside of Canada, Kieran Crowley’s team is another increasingly home-produced roster. Of note is that all but one of those born abroad were selected after playing rugby domestically, with Richard Thorpe the lone exception, qualifying through his Canadian mother. Gordon McRorie is the only player to qualify after moving to the country as an adult. James Pritchard joined the team after Liam Underwood was forced home injured.

Nanyak Dala FL Nigeria Residency (2007)
Richard Thorpe FL England Parent
Gordon McRorie SH Scotland Residency (2014)
DTH van der Merwe WI South Africa Residency (2006)
Matt Evans FB England Residency (2003)
James Pritchard FB Australia Grandparent

ROMANIA (4) Romania joined Argentina and Georgia in 2011 as being the three only teams with no player from abroad on their rosters. Now in 2015, the Oaks have looked to improve their fortunes by bolstering their pool of players with those who qualify on the three year eligibility rule. The change in selection policy was brought into effect in 2012 – with Otar Turashvili the first import to play for Romania – enabling players to be eligible in time for this year’s Rugby World Cup. Three of the four who have made the roster all moved to the country for what was in effect a trial, and have come through to now be playing in the tournament.

Otar Turashvili HO Georgia Residency (2012)
Johannes van Heerden LO South Africa Residency (2015)
Michael Wiringi FH New Zealand Residency (2015)
Paula Kinikinilau CE Tonga Residency (2015)

ENGLAND (3) Of the four Home Nations it is England which has the highest number of locally produced players. Stuart Lancaster’s 31-man roster features just Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, and Brad Barritt as players born outside of England. The Vunipola brothers both moved to England with their family at a young age, while Barritt’s eligibility is more complex with him having represented South Africa at junior level. A number of others born abroad missed out on selection including Alex Corbisiero, Dylan Hartley, and Manu Tuilagi.

Mako Vunipola LHP New Zealand Residency (1995)
Billy Vunipola N8 Australia Residency (1995)
Brad Barritt CE South Africa Grandparent

FIJI (3) Considering there are players from Fiji representing Australia, France, Italy, New Zealand, and Tonga, it is of note that Fiji’s 31-man roster features only three players qualifying via eligibility laws. All three have at least one Fijian parent while Ben Volavola spent some of his childhood living in the country. Suggesting that Fiji punches above its weight is a grave understatement.

Campese Ma’afu LHP Australia Parent
Josh Matavesi FH England Parent
Ben Volavola FH Australia Parent

NAMIBIA (2) Africa’s second highest ranked country, Namibia will have just two players born abroad playing for the team at the World Cup. Both players are South African born and raised who qualify to represent Namibia based on parentage. Chrysander Botha and Conrad Marais were each born in Walvis Bay, which was technically still part of South Africa until 1994, when it was officially transferred to Namibia. The country has been producing an improved supply of players in recent years which could prove vital to the objective of winning a first ever World Cup match.

Louis van der Westhuizen HO South Africa Parent
Renaldo Bothma N8 South Africa Parent

GEORGIA (1) The Lelos have been traditionally entirely home-grown – and still are – though a mild exemption is given to Merab Sharikadze, born in Moscow to Georgian parents who returned to Tbilisi shortly after.

Merab Sharikadze CE Russia Parent

SOUTH AFRICA (1) The country’s only import is Tendai Mtawarira. ‘The Beast’ was initially in South Africa playing under 18 international rugby for his native Zimbabwe. Playing at number 8, he caught the attention of Super Rugby scouts who convinced him to play for the Sharks academy, where he would be converted into a loosehead prop. Some political hiccups have emerged since, but with his citizenship finally granted in 2010 the problems regarding his eligibility in the eyes of the bureaucrats has subsided.

Tendai Mtawarira LHP Zimbabwe Residency (2008)

URUGUAY (1) The single exception in Los Teros is prop Alejo Corral – younger brother of former Pumas prop Matías – who was born in Buenos Aires and lives there today. He qualifies due to having spent his teenage and early adult years in Uruguay, playing rugby for Los Lobos in Punta del Este and Old Boys in Montevideo. Having moved across the Rio de la Plata in 1995, he returned to Argentina in 2003.

Alejo Corral LHP Argentina Residency (1998)


About Americas Rugby News

Formally created in June 2015, this website’s goal is to increase media exposure of the Tier 2 rugby nations, and create a hub with a focus on the stories of rugby in the Americas – North, Central and South.

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  • kiwi7

    “Malakai Fekitoa and Waisake Naholo qualify on residency in recent years, both having moved to New Zealand on academy contracts during their teens.”

    “Academy contracts” ???? What???? Naholo came to small town Whanganui to live with his uncle. He went to the local school and progressed through the ranks like every other kid. Fekitoa applied for a scholarship from Wesley College while (legally) in NZ. Wesley College has been supporting the education of boys from the Pacific Islands for about 150 years.

  • kiwi7 ‘Academy contract’ was poor wording and meant to be scholarship, and both were, in fact, in country before receiving them. Nobody here is denying the positive impact that Wesley College – and others – have had on Pacific Island players.

  • Rugby Fan

    Sure can see the influence of having 2 Australian coaches to having 4 Aussie players for USA
    I’m missing Brian Doyle, Scott LaValla and of course Todd Clever
    Time will tell, let’s see the results of the Samoa match.

  • kiwi7

    kiwi7 You still seem to think Naholo received some kind of scholarship. That would be news to his father.

    “While there are social media reports that suggest Waisake Naholo, who was also an excellent athlete, went to Wanganui City College on a scholarship, his father says this is not correct.
    “It was not part of our plan for him to go to New Zealand but it was his uncle’s fault,” says Aborosa.
    “His uncle has three daughters and he wanted a boy to be in the family, so he just called and asked about Waisake coming over. He said he would take care of everything, his fares, and we said if you can afford to do that, we can send him over.”‘

    Anyway, this is an excellent website; I’m glad I discovered it. Keep up the good work.

  • MataioManley

    Very interesting piece. Like many, I used to assume that New Zealand was a alway ‘stealing’ Polynesian talent and while many in the past NZ may have used its influence to sway players to the black jersey, it seems that it is no longer as prevalent. The shift seems to be that most of the Polynesian players are born in New Zealand and only a generation removed from the islands. Truly, NZ’s major export seems to be rugby players…

  • AlexanderSharman

    The reality is we live in a globalised world … Stephen Moore and Jamie Heaslip for example were born in Saudi Arabia and Israel, to parents working in those countries at the time. There are then countless cases of players born in one country whose parents moved their famillies during their teenage years.
    Should this prevent people from playing for their new country? Obviously not.
    There is then the residency case … if someone has moved to a country, and spent 3 years living there, and is good enough to get selected above locally born players, I dont see why they shouldnt be allowed to be selected.
    After I moved to Paraguay and had lived here 3 years, I was asked if I wanted to play for the national team. For me, being asked to play was an amazing honour, and I was proud to help their national tea, with my experience.
    Some peole have argued that residency should be 5 years or more … but the reality is that rugby is a contact sport and 5 years is a sporting eternity. If someone was never selected for their own country, and is a standout in another country, why shouldnt they be allowed to play, which benefits both the other country and themselves. 
    Olympic athletes are allowed to change countries, and until the 1990´s rugby didnt even have elegibility rules. there were many cases of players playing for 2 countries or more.
    In the cases of Argentina, Namibia, and Uruguay … its pretty obvious why they dont have many or any foreign players.because they dont have profesional domestic rugby competitions. and thus it is unlikely that players good enough to make their national teams (and play profesional rugby elsewhere) would ever immigrate.
    On the other hand in the case of France, Japan and Wales, they have high level, well paíd, professional rugby competitons, if someone who has not yet represented their country of birth excels in their club competitions, and is asked if they would like to play in the national team (which today involves financial rewards) I guarantee 100% of players would say yes.
    Scotland and Romania have perhaps taken it a step further, with their offers of contracts to players, with the backing of the national unión, specifically to nationise them, but that is valid under current rules.

  • Congrats on this fine piece of research. Best wishes from @empiricalrugby1

  • chasingtheegg1

    Excellent piece. Great comments too, a very refreshing change, good work all round.

  • South Africa still favourites in Pool B despite problems and
    horrific upset against japan. Scotland on the other side has got confidence
    from south africa vs japan upset match; so both south africa nad scotland will
    try to win the game on 3rd of october in England to go through quarter finals. WATCH

  • RolandoCarmonaAldunate

    Excellent article. Top work.

  • DanTheman2

    MataioManley the black jersey has it’s own influence, nothing to do with us baggering players who are already living here.

  • DanTheman2

    kiwi7 Ignoring the controversy, that’s a nicetlittle story about why Waisake came to NZ. Thank god for Uncle Naholo.

  • Kay H

    kiwi7 ..yes, many versions….why would you just send a child away to another country?
    My feeling is that the early development of PI kids, displaces other kids of their places in their teen years.  Go along and watch a high school game/college game… I know my two sons had enough brains not to put themselves at risk….I think the early grades based on weight should may be still apply

  • Kay H

    A commentator stated that most of the Georgia players, played in the France competition..  Maybe that balances out things, but how can you develop rugby in the country if there is no “history”.
    Rugby is about Saturday games, and Wednesday night practice supervised by former players, now putting back as coaches.

  • PlatoOnRugby

    Everything is so money-oriented… Kudos to Argentina… Not a single foreigner. The others, buying players… Shame on you

  • harrymc

    Pauliciasi Manu – his name is Pauliasi Manu and he was born in Auckland – which is NOT in Tonga.

  • @harrymc Pauliasi Manu was born in Neiafu, on Vava’u island, which is in Tonga.
    “”Most of us island boys struggle with food, and knowing what is right and eating it is the way to go. We’ve just got to follow it and not go off track,” the Tongan-born front-rower said.”
    Thanks for pointing out the typo, fixed.

  • superhoriguy

    MataioManley we have never since the all blacks started ever got players from other countrys you have to live in nz to be selected goes to show how peeps like you listen to the media and jelous bitches lol now we cant stop peeps from moving over over here if their ambition is to play for the blacks lol

  • Ryan R

    The article claims that the Vunipola brothers moved to England with their parents at a young age which is misleading. They moved to Wales at a young age where they began playing rugby. They were encouraged to England by scholarships by the English private schools.

  • Argentina_2027

    @Ryan R Their father moved uprooted the family to move from Wales to England. There they attended the Castle School in Thornbury initially. It is a state school. Their scholarships came later.

  • Djlowballer

    Kay H