22 May 2012

Shingler's List - Best (and worst) of the turncoats

What with all the debate surrounding the IRB's refusal to allow Steven Shingler to switch national allegiance to Scotland (due to having already represented Wales U21) ...along with the hype surrounding the potential debut of Edinburgh's 'Flying Dutchman', Tim Visser for Scotland, I have pulled out a list of the very best (and worst) players to have ever switched international allegiance in rugby union. Plus a few from league too....

Read on to see who made it in the dumptackle selections for the best and worst turncoats. Can you think of anyone notable missed out? As always leave your views in the comments section below!


Frank Bunce (Western Samoa to NZ)

Although Bunce was mainly of Niuean descent, he (despite initially trialling for the All Blacks in '88) came to the attention of the rugby world as a whole with a string of powerful performances for Western Samoa in the 1991 World Cup.

Bunce's electric form helped the Islanders spark a famous upset victory over the Welsh before they were eventually eliminated in the quarter-finals. It set Samoa up for a trend of famous Rugby World Cup upsets thoughout the years.

Unsuprisingly, his imposing play caught the attention of incoming All Blacks coach Laurie Mains, who selected him in New Zealand's squad the following year. He then made is All Blacks debut at the age of 30 and went on to be an All Black legend, playing his last game for the team at the grand old age of 37. During the seven year spell, he scored 20 tries in 57 appearances, forming an explosive partnership with Walter Little. He was an integral component of one of NZ's most successful eras on the rugby field, helping  NZ win the first two Tri-Nations, reach a world cup final in '95 and record their first series victory in South Africa in '96.

Vaega Tuigamala (NZ to Samoa)

The pocket rocket affectionately known as 'Inga the Winger' had a colourful career which spanned both codes of rugby. He was a huge success in both, represented NZ with distinction in union before playing for the nation of his birth, Samoa, in the 1999 World Cup. During his time with Samoa, he played an influential role in their famous belting of Ireland.

Tuigamala was not only a union legend though. He also managed a devastating stint in rugby league for Wigan in between. His performances were exciting enough to then push Newcastle Falcons' directors to offer a then record $1 million deal for a switch back to union.

Once described by his team-mate Doddie Weir as 'simply the best in the world', Tuigamala was the original prototype of the blockbusting New Zealand winger and the inspiration for future legends such as big Jonah Lomu.

Brad Thorn (Australia Rugby League to NZ rugby union)

You name it, Brad Thorn has done it. He's got the t-shirt too (he probably made the t-shirt). The 37 year old Kiwi became the most decorated man in rugby union history on Saturday, as he helped push Leinster to yet another Heineken Cup Victory. So you can now add the Heineken Cup to a long list of winner's medals which already included Super Rugby, Tri Nations, NPC, and the World Cup. That's not even covering the 10 years (over two stints) he had in rugby league prior to his switch to union, where he represented the Broncos with distinction. During that time, he won the NRL, State of Origin and was a gutsy performer for Australia at International level. So much so that he was awarded the Australian Sports Medal for his contributions.

It's a mark of the man that when Thorn was first called up to the All Blacks, he rejected it. Despite holding a dream to wear the black shirt since he was a kid, he didn't think he was good enough. He took a year out from professional sport to be introspective and returned with a bang, making the 2003 NZ World Cup squad. Thorn was a powerful ball carrier and his game improved with age as he tightened up his role and became the hardman of the NZ team. They always looked a far weaker prospect with Thorn out of the side and you sensed that in the opposition too. The man is a legendendary athlete.


There a number of players in rugby union history who have switched codes from rugby league, as well as international allegiance. It often seemed to be a one-way ticket from NZ to England in all honesty. I won't go into too much detail out of kindness, but the most innefectual recruits were probably centre Henry Paul and blockbusting winger Lesley Vainikolo. Both came with big repuations but failed to deliver. The Twickenham crowd were mericless and so too were their coaches. A series of inept performances for England shattered their reputations andd gace the impression that unline other converts, they would never fully get to grips with union.


  1. Great Post and great blog you've got going here too.

    Frank Bunce was epic. He seemed to be the difference between the top sides especially during the latter part of his career. Specificaaly remember him smashing the Boks with solo tries in the tri nations!

  2. It still really annoys me that shingler wasnt allowed to play for scotland. I player should not have his future desided because of one match. He played 15 or so I think for wales and only because of the french youth team being their secound was he stuck. Silly rule.
    Epsically as scotland would have played him in the 6 nations whereas wales cause all the commotion and then leave him to rot at home. I hope his international carrer isnt over before it began. Poor guy.

  3. yes it's definitely a shame.

    Isa Nacewa is the name that always comes to mind when I think of these kind of situations.

    Born and bred in nz, he naively took up Fiji's offer as a youngster to go to the World Cup, played 1 minute for them, and was then not able to switch allegiance to play for the All Blacks after that. He would have been a great All Black too.