England No. 8 Nathan Hughes sets sights on Fiji spot

Nathan Hughes

Former England backrower Nathan Hughes may turn his career arc into a full circle if he is chosen to play for Fiji at this year’s Rugby World Cup.

Hughes was born in Fiji, moved to New Zealand on a high school scholarship, traveled to England where he played 22 tests and now is playing in Japan for the Ricoh Black Rams.

He last played at No. 8 for England in 2019 and because three years have elapsed since is last test he is eligible to play for his native country and has made himself available to Fiji.

Hughes confirmed in a conference call from Tokyo on Tuesday he is “100%” serious about playing for Fiji. He hasn’t yet had a conversation with new Fiji head coach Simon Raiwalui about a possible move, though he had some contact with Fiji when he first changed his eligibility.

Hughes made his name during nine years in the England premiership as a powerful backrower who played mostly for Wasps, Bristol and Bath. He now plays for the Blacks Rams in Japan League One and at 31 has regained some of his best form.

“It would mean a lot playing for my home nation, playing in front of my family, not just representing the family but it’s something I can give back,” Hughes said. “They have supported me through my whole rugby career, whatever jersey I wear. If the opportunity did arise it would be something to give back to the family.”

Hughes believes his experience could be valuable to Fiji, particularly in a World Cup.

“I put my name forward (for Fiji),” he said. “With the new Super Rugby team, the Drua, there’s a lot of young talent there and they’re playing really well. All I can do now is just focus on playing well for Ricoh and just keep going. If I get selected well and good and if no, just keep trucking along.

“There is a lot of talent in Fiji and I am one of the many waiting here patiently. I’ll do my bit and keep playing well.”

If he is chosen for Fiji, which has been drawn with Wales and Australia in Pool C at the World Cup in France, Hughes would be one of the first leading international players to take advantage of amended eligibility rules which allow a player to change their allegiance from one nation to another after a three year break.

Hughes has kept a close eye on rugby in Fiji and has been impressed by the Drua who recently beat the defending Super Rugby champions the Crusaders. He still has two years to run on his contract with Ricoh and expects to play out that contract and perhaps extend it.

He supported moves by Dan Leo, head of the Pacific Players Association, to change eligibility rules to allow particularly Pacific players to turn out for their home nations after playing for Tier One nations such as England or New Zealand. “I think it just gives the opportunity for the Pacific Island nations, the Tier Two teams to challenge the Tier One nations,” Hughes said. “You can see the Tier Two nations, they play with a lot of flair but if we can go and add a bit more structure, what we’ve learned playing overseas, it could go a long way.”