Taqele Naiyaravoro’s verbal agreement to play for Fiji invokes new scepticism over residency ruling
In a move that bucks the current trend for switching allegiance, Fiji’s coach John McKee confirmed yesterday that the Waratahs’ giant Fijian winger Taqele Naiyaravoro, who signed a three-year deal with Glasgow starting this summer, has verbally agreed to play for the country of his birth in the upcoming Rugby World Cup.
McKee is on a whistle-stop tour of the globe, having already taken in London and Paris, catching up with Fiji’s players who are scattered to all corners. He is currently in Sydney to speak to Naiyaravoro where Scotland on Sunday caught up with him.
“I’ve been talking to Taqele since early this year when he was [first] playing with the Waratahs and his indication to me was that he wants to play for Fiji,” said the Kiwi coach. “We know what a quality player he is and it’s important for us that our best players are available to play for Fiji.”
Presuming that the big winger is a man of his word it is great news for Fiji rugby, if a little disappointing for the Scotstoun faithful who will now have to wait until the end of the World Cup before seeing Naiyaravoro don Glasgow’s colours.
The winger’s decision to plump for the land where he was born and raised until the age of 19 is something of a surprise. A host of Fijian-born players have been selected in other international squads and, while the evidence is entirely circumstantial, there is at least the suspicion that Scotland had viewed the Fijian as another so-called “project player”.
‘I think a five-year residency rule would be more appropriate’
That evidence takes the form of his three-year contract, the same length of time as others such as Edinburgh’s South African breakaway Cornel du Preez, who is earmarked for the Scotland squad as soon as he qualifies.
At the end of his three-year Glasgow contract, Naiyaravoro would be eligible to play for Scotland under World Rugby’s less than stringent three-year residency rule but not, obviously, if he has already turned out for his native Fiji.
Naiyaravoro’s decision goes against the recent grain. McKee reveals that his call to arms fell on deaf ears when he made it to Wasps’ No.8 Nathan Hughes, who was born in Fiji, qualifies for Samoa through his mother and for New Zealand by reasons of residency.
“Nathan Hughes said to me that he didn’t want to make a decision at this point,” said McKee, “so effectively making himself unavailable to us for the World Cup.”
While England regulars can expect to add something in the region of £200,000 per annum on top of their club salaries, the Fiji Rugby Union is a little less generous. McKee estimated that Fiji pay their players perhaps 25-30 per cent of what the wealthy nations do, although it would be surprising if the sums are that close.
World Rugby’s chief executive, Brett Gosper, recently conceded that the three-year residency rule may need tweaked “to ensure the integrity of the international game” which is already in tatters when France can select a Fijian, several South Africans and a New Zealander (of Samoan heritage) in their World Cup squad.
McKee is affected more than most by World Rugby’s absurd three-year ruling so it is no surprise to hear he would like to see a change.
“I think that the Fijian Rugby Union don’t have an official policy of asking for change,” he says, indicating that these musings are his own, “but the problem arose because the Pacific Island players used to leave home at a late age. Now they go abroad younger and younger. So if an 18-year-old moves abroad he is qualified to play for his adopted country by the time he is 21.
“I think a five-year residency rule would be more appropriate or perhaps they should adopt the Olympic qualifying standard of citizenship. The point is that there is migration for reasons other than rugby and World Rugby must recognise that.”
Now 23 years of age, Naiyaravoro was just 19 when he moved to Australia after being scouted in his native Fiji and has already been linked with Australia, for whom he qualifies by residency. Michael Cheika coaches both the Wallabies and the Waratahs and he openly aired the possibility of capping the Fijian – a plan that may have been stymied by his move to Europe. Naiyaravoro is undoubtedly the man of the moment, perhaps the hottest property in world rugby right now. He is a giant standing 6ft 4in and tipping the scales around the 19-stone mark and quick with it. He broke into the Tahs’ starting line this year after making the switch from rugby league club West Tigers and quickly made his mark, going past four would-be tacklers with a mixture of power and pace to score a try against the Western Force a few weeks back which earned him the “new Lomu” tag.
Only yesterday he scored a brace against the Crusaders where he came up against another Fijian behemoth in the shape of Nemani Nadolo, the winger who is listed as the same height as Naiyaravoro but comes in ten kilos heavier. Nadolo is not the only thing standing between Naiyaravoro and a place in Fiji’s starting line-up when they open the World Cup against England come 18 September, as McKee takes pleasure in pointing out.
“Taqele has size and strength and he has played union throughout his youth, at school and in the academy system in Fiji,” said the Kiwi. “He’s currently relearning the union game [after playing rugby league]. But knowing the quality of player that we have available to us,” – and here McKee name-checks the likes of Napolioni Nalaga (Toulon), Timoci Nagusa (Montpellier) and Waisea Nayacalevu (Stade Francais) who all ply their trade in the Top 14 – “we may have the best back line in world rugby. Taqele has to earn his start on merit.”
England: Semesa Rokoduguni, and possibly Nathan Hughes.
France: Noa Nakaitaci,uncapped but listed in the World Cup squad.
Scotland: Joe Nayacavou, in the Sevens squad.
Italy: Samuela Vunisa.
Australia: Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani and recently retired Radike Samo.
New Zealand: Sitiveni Sivivatu (now retired from international rugby).