'The elephant in the room': Folau faces social media curbs with Tonga
SPOTLIGHT: Israel Folau will be a prized addition to Tongan rugby but will have restrictions on what he posts on social media, along with all his teammates, coach Toutai Kefu says.
Folau will soon make his return to international rugby, three years on from the termination of his Wallabies contract after he posted a meme on social media that said “hell” awaits homosexual people and other groups.
Former World Cup winner and Wallabies great Kefu said he had yet to discuss social media with Folau but trusted the 33-year-old would not cause problems for his team in the meantime.
“That’s probably the elephant in the room,” the Tonga coach told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
“At this point in time, [trust] is what we probably have to rely on.
“But I mean, we would have some restrictions, like we always do every campaign with all the players.
“I’m sure we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Outside back Folau has posted only a handful of times to the more-than-400 000 followers on his social media accounts since being sacked by Rugby Australia and his former Super Rugby side New South Wales Waratahs in 2019.
While the meme that triggered his dismissal remains on his Instagram account, the dual-code international has steered clear of controversy while rebooting his professional rugby career.
Folau, who scored 37 tries in 73 Tests for the Wallabies, was named in Kefu’s squad last week for next month’s Pacific Nations Cup, which will feature hosts Fiji, Samoa and an Australia ‘A’ team.
He will also be in the selection frame for Tonga’s 2023 World Cup play-off against an Asia-based side on July 23, to be held on Australia’s Sunshine Coast.
World Rugby’s decision last year to allow players to switch their international allegiance paved the way for Folau to represent Tonga, along with former All Blacks Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa.
Kefu is excited about what Folau and other seasoned internationals could do for Tongan rugby, which has long struggled to retain talent in the face of more lucrative opportunities offshore.
“I’ve known Israel for a long time. He’s going to bring his professional mindset, he’s going to bring a set of skills that we’ve never seen in our environment,” said Kefu.
“We’re going to have a good group of young players as well.
“Imagine their eyes when they’re in the room with the likes of Piutau and Malakai and Israel.
“This is going to be a fantastic opportunity for these young guys to learn.”