New eligibility laws will make Tonga a threat at 2023 World Cup

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Afeaki, a 24-Test cap leader for Tonga, said recent changes to eligibility laws by World Rugby could see Tonga beating tier-one teams in France.


Players like former All Blacks Charles Piutau, Malakai Fekitoa and Ngani Laumape are all likely to feature for Tonga, and controversial Australian player Israel Folau is also on their radar.


Afeaki, 48 and most recently technical director for Singapore Rugby told The Rugby Paper, "The main thing former All Blacks like Charles Piutau or Malakai Fekitoa will bring is their rugby IQ.


"Yes, they are very gifted players, but it's more their ability to make the right choices under pressure in really stressful situations.


“It's going to make a big difference. At previous World Cups we've lost games by five or 10 points not because we haven't got the talent or the physicality, but because guys made mistakes under pressure.”

Inoke Afeaki


"They didn't have the knowledge of what to do and when to do it. That will be great for a template for all small countries."


Afeaki added that their presence would also help develop younger Tongan players.


Tonga's place in France is still to be confirmed as they need to complete a playoff to secure a berth.


But Afeaki is confident they can do that, and with the players they could field, they would be well-positioned to do better than the win they achieved over beaten 2011 finalists France in the New Zealand tournament.


"Tonga always have some great talent in their side, and they are very physical, but the experience they should have in France is really exciting. I expect them to cause some damage and I'd be surprised if they didn't cause some serious upsets," he said.


Afeaki believes the Pacific Island sides should also have a part in the 2025 British & Irish Lions tour of Australia.


Rather than playing games against weak Australian teams outside of the Super Rugby franchises, Afeaki believes the Lions would be better off with warm-up games against Pacific sides.


"I think it would be absolutely fantastic if they stopped off in Fiji, Samoa, or Tonga to play some warm-up games, or the island nations could play them in Australia.


"They would provide the Lions with good preparation, and they would be interesting games to watch which I think would attract big crowds.


"Imagine the Lions played a Test in Fiji or Samoa – it would be challenging for them and prepare them well, while also bringing them tighter as a group because the conditions can be challenging.


"The changes to the eligibility laws is a big step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to help the tier two nations," he said.



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