International Rugby, Opinions, Springboks

The myth of All Blacks Polynesian player poaching

Mark Keohane, in his IOL Rugby World Cup watch, rubbishes the belief that the All Blacks are the big poaches of Polynesian talent.

The All Blacks at this year’s World Cup in Japan have four foreign-born players in 31, with two players born in Tonga and one in Samoa. By contrast Tonga selected 14 New Zealand-born players in their World Cup squad and Samoa picked 16 New Zealand-born players.

Auckland has the largest Pacific Island community of any city in the world and the New Zealand players with Polynesian history are extremely proud of their heritage, which is why so many make themselves available for selection for the likes of Samoa and Tonga.


New Zealand rugby has become stronger because of the Polynesian influence in the last three decades, but those who have played for the All Blacks were invariably born in New Zealand, which makes them New Zealanders.

A traditionally dressed and tattooed Polynesian warrior performs a war dance with the rugby team of Pacific Islanders before the start of their match against the New South Wales Warratahs in Sydney June 25, 2004. [The Pacific Islanders are made up of players from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa who defeated the Warratahs 68-21. Photo: Reuters

New Zealand, with 81, will have the greatest representation of New Zealand-born players at the tournament, followed by England (49), South Africa (45) and Australia (44). This equates to 37% of the players at this year’s World Cup being born in four nations.

Namibia, Argentina and Uruguay are the only three countries where every squad member was born in that respective country. The Springboks’ only foreign-born player is Tendai Mtawarira.

Hosts Japan have 15 foreign-born squad members, made up of five Kiwis, four Tongans, three South Africans, one Samoan, one Australian and one South Korean.

The United States also have 15 foreign-born players, with Samoa the most populated in the tournament with 19 players born outside of Samoa.

Samoa perform a haka (war dance) to celebrate beating Fiji in the final of the rugby sevens at Westpac Stadium in Wellington. Photo: REUTERS/Anthony Phelps

Australia, who provide 13 Australian-born players to other countries at the tournament, have 12 players born outside of Australia.

Among those 12 players, five come from New Zealand, four are from the Pacific Islands, one is from South Africa and one is from Zimbabwe.

England also give away a lot more than they take, with 18 English-born players spread across several teams, while eight foreign-born players are in the England squad.

World Rugby’s eligibility rules allow for a player to represent a country in which he or she was not born if they have a parent who was born in the country, they have completed 10 years of cumulative residence in the country before playing or they have lived in the country for 36 consecutive months and qualify on residency.

The three-year rule is one that caused the most debate among world rugby’s leadership and this residency rule will increase to 60 months (five years) on 31 December 2020, so only players who moved countries up to 31 December 2017 will be eligible for selection under the three-year rule.

Fijian players perform their traditional war dance before the match Photo: Action Images / Keith Williams

Players are also no longer allowed to represent more than one team. This has mostly affected the Pacific Island teams, who continue to push their case for ex-All Blacks and ex-Wallabies with Polynesian ancestry to be allowed to play for these respective teams.


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One thought on “The myth of All Blacks Polynesian player poaching

  1. WR Aislabie says:

    Australia also has a Papuan (Melanesian) half back from Papua New Guinea.
    PS Fiji also would like some of their players who have represented such Melanesian nations as England, France, Ireland and Wales. One of the greatest Melanesian players retired this week; Joseva Rocacocco.

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