Hold all World Cup bets. An eligibility loophole that will allow former All Blacks to play for other nations has potential to change everything.
The big winners will be the Pacific Islands, with Isaia Toeava strongly tipped to make a return at next year's World Cup for Samoa.
The loophole is an unforeseen consequence of sevens becoming an Olympic sport. The IOC's eligibility rules trump the IRB's and, even if someone has played test rugby at any level for one nation, they will be able to re-qualify for another if they hold that nation's passport.
As long as someone hasn't played test football for 18 months, they can play one World Series Sevens tournament either next year or in 2016 - these are Olympic qualifying events - and be eligible to play at all levels for that same nation.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
In practice, that means someone such as the Samoan-born Toeava could play one sevens tournament next year for Samoa and then turn out at the World Cup for the nation of his birth. The same is true of Lelia Masaga, Rudi Wulf, Tim Nanai-Williams and Neemia Tialata. Sam Tuitupou could re-emerge with Tonga and Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu are candidates for Fiji.
The irony is delicious. In 2004 and 2009, the IRB council rejected a New Zealand-led proposal to change eligibility laws to allow players who had represented a Tier One nation to stand down for a year and then play for a Tier Two nation.
There were fears, among the Celts in particular, that such a move would strengthen the Pacific Island sides. That vision didn't sit well with the old-guard members of the council who were courting the IOC, believing they were about to open a gold mine if they could win a place at the 2016 event. No one had any idea that a consequence of Olympic inclusion would be to inadvertently change the eligibility laws.
"The loophole is there and it's going to throw up a few cases of players already captured looking to switch allegiance," head of the Pacific Island Players' Association, Josh Blackie said. "If that happens, it has to be a positive for the Pacific Islands. I think it's well worthwhile some nations investigating to see what players might be available."
Blackie, however, points out there is a danger of the loophole being used against the Islands. There's also the prospect of nations such as England and Wales benefiting.
Could, for example, Nick Evans, who has been based in London since 2008, obtain a UK passport and play a significant role for England at next year's World Cup? What about Luke McAlister? He could be the player England need at second-five and Wales may fancy they could re-tool Aled de Malmanche.