Former All Blacks wing Charles Piutau said he is desperately hoping to represent Tonga in the upcoming 2019 World Cup in Japan.
The 26-year-old's chances though will depend on a change of eligibility rules, if he has any chance of featuring for the country of his parent's birth in time for the showpiece event next year.
Piutau, who started his career with Tonga U20 side last played for All Blacks in July 2015 after he was omitted from the World Cup squad that year and his move to Europe effectively ended his chance of Test recall under Steve Hansen.
He moved to Ulster in 2016 and it was announced that he will be part of Bristol Bears for the 2018/19 season.
“I’d love nothing more than to be able to represent Tonga at the next World Cup,” Piutau, who has the backing of Pacific Rugby Players’ Welfare (PPRW) told Press Association Sport.
“I’ve expressed my desire to do that previously, but so far there has been no word about whether that would be possible.
“I’m holding out hope that it can still happen, but obviously the longer that goes on without any suggestion of the rulings changing, then the less likely that becomes.”
Chief executive of PRPW Dan Leo is pushing for a change in eligibility rules that will allow Test-capped players to represent a lower-tier nation of their heritage after a three-year cooling period.
Citing the case of Piutau, Leo said the change in rule will only allow lower-tier nations to be more competitive at international arena thereby making the competition more exciting.
“World Rugby have spent a lot of time fine-tuning their policy over residency qualifications,” Leo said.
“But we would like to see regulations brought in where players who qualify for more than one nation and have been capped for Tier One teams can then – after a suitable cooling-off period – be allowed to represent another Test team from a lower tier.
“We’re not looking at top stars of the game in their prime, we’re looking at guys who perhaps have a handful of caps for a Tier One nation, have then moved abroad, and years later want to represent a Tier Two nation through their heritage.
“So guys like Charles Piutau fall into that category.
“The impact the availability of big stars like Charles could have for Pacific Island nations would be huge.
“There’s no policy that allows players in those situations to go back, and we need that established if those nations are really going to be able to progress.
“We’d like these guys to be available for the coming World Cup. It’s probably touch-and-go now timing-wise, but I’d imagine we could get the ball rolling on that quite quickly.”
Tonga are positioned in Pool C with England, France, Argentina and United States in the 2019 World Cup draw.