A change in eligibility laws has given new life to the international careers of many former All Blacks who hail from the mighty Pasifika nations.
Steven Luatua donned the black jersey 15 times between 2013 and 2016 before switching allegiance to Manu Samoa in 2022.
Luatua and comany got their Rugby World Cup campaign off to a winning start with a 43-10 victory over Chile in round two. A 19-10 haftime lead was blown out in a scoring spree just after the break, with three tries – four if you include the Duncan Paia’aua’s effort after the halftime whistle – in 10 minutes displaying the brutal force of the Samoan forward pack.
A rare alley-oop try to halfback Jonathan Taumateine to start the second period showed the innovation and athleticism of the group.
The win has Samoa sitting third in their pool with Tests against Argentina, Japan and England remining.
A Rugby World Cup debut with his home country was a special moment for Luatua.
“It was pretty cool today,” Luatua told NZR+’s The Front Row Daily Show. “That was pretty cool. I’m not going to lie.
“Obviously, I grew up in New Zealand, learning the haka and having massive respect for Maori culture, but to be able to do it for my own culture, the Manu Siva Tau, just hits a little bit different.”
A veteran of the game with worldly rugby experience, Luatua has a lot of wisdom to offer his new team. That doesn’t necessarily translate to any additional pressure on the versatile forward to contribute in a leadership sense though.
“I wouldn’t say pressure, maybe a little bit. I wouldn’t necessarily tell the boys what to do but if they pick up a few things here and there from what I do off the field, so be it you know.”
Prior to his days in the All Blacks, Luatua was involved in two New Zealand U20 campaigns. In both 2010 and 2011, the Baby Blacks went all the way to win the World Championhsip with Luatua one of many famous names to emerge from the side.
In fact, nine of the starting XV from the 2011 side are at the 2023 Rugby World Cup, reprsesting four different nations.
Codie Taylor, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane and Beauden Barrett are not just in the All Blacks but are established members of the team’s starting XV.
Ben Tameifuna and Charles Piutau are lining up for Tonga, also as starters. Luatua is joined by Lima Sopoaga with Manu Samoa while Gareth Anscombe is representing Wales.
Now aged 32, Luatua takes inspiration from his former teammates as he navigates the tail end of a storied career.
“For me, it’s class seeing all the boys still representing and still playing on the world stage.
“It just gives me a lot of confidence,” he said. “I’ve been out of the game for a while in terms of internationals and Test rugby, but to see the boys still doing it at our age, I was like sweet, maybe I can too.”