Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Passport rule trips schoolboy rugby player dubbed 'Tongan Thor'

Sensational schoolboy rugby player can't be in national secondary team because of eligibility change.

Schoolboy rugby internet sensation Taniela (Daniel) Tupou, whose try-scoring exploits for Sacred Heart College in Auckland have gone viral, can't represent New Zealand at schoolboy level because of new eligibility rules.

At 135kg and quicker than most wings, the Tongan-born 18-year-old prop is a player plenty of coaches in New Zealand - and around the world - would love to have.

Watch - Play of the day: 135kg prop smashes schoolboys

Tupou, who has been dubbed "Tongan Thor" on internet blog sites and chatrooms, scored three tries in 20 minutes while showing incredible pace, skill and agility in Saturday's televised 1st XV game against Kelston Boys High.

Footage of that game has been viewed all over the world, and was run by the Daily Telegraph in London.

Talent scouts believe the Sacred Heart boarder has what it takes to become a household name over the next few years. But Tupou, who was born in Tonga, is not a New Zealand passport holder and will not be eligible to play for the national secondary schools team later this year.

The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU), in conjunction with the New Zealand Schools Rugby Council (NZSRC), has decreed only players with New Zealand passports can be picked - a decision that has upset Sacred Heart.

"I think it is a naive stance," principal Jim Dale said. "If there are talented kids like Daniel and they are deemed to be good enough, they should be picked - they should be given the opportunity. Daniel has been here in New Zealand since late 2010 and he's a wonderful kid. I'd hate to think that he'd be lost to another code or to another country who could be more accommodating."

As recently as last year rugby administrators made exemptions for boys who didn't have passports as long as they had signed contracts with New Zealand provincial rugby unions. At this year's annual meeting, however, the NZSRC confirmed no exceptions would be made in 2014, meaning New Zealand will reject one of the most promising players in the country.

Mr Dale is hopeful the decision would be reversed if Tupou's form continues. His intention was to stay in New Zealand and pursue a career in professional rugby. Signing a provincial contract would also strengthen his case.

"He is definitely on our radar," Auckland Rugby Union high performance director Ant Strachan said.

The NZRU and NZSRC said the eligibility ruling stopped players missing out to boys who may not commit to living here beyond their schooling.

- additional reporting: Steve Deane

Rugby residents

Malakai Fekitoa: The Auckland and Highlanders sensation has just been called into the All Blacks training squad. The Tongan-born midfielder starred as a scholarship player at Wesley College in 2009 but could not play for New Zealand's national age grade teams. The 22-year-old has just become eligible for New Zealand after completing a three-year residency requirement.

Sitiveni Sivivatu: Another Wesley schoolboy star who had to bide his time before wearing the black jersey, the Fijian-born winger made his All Blacks debut in 2005 after qualifying on residency grounds aged 23.

Willie Ofahengaue: The Tongan-born forward toured Australia as a member of the New Zealand secondary schools side in 1988. At the end of the tour he was refused entry back into New Zealand due to an issue with his Tongan passport. He remained in Australia, eventually playing 41 tests for the Wallabies.

nzherald.co.nz

Watch video of Tupou in action here at tinyurl.com/tanielatupou

- NZ Herald

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