Folau and All Blacks trio included in Tonga squad
NEWS: Israel Folau is set to return to international rugby after being named Friday in Tonga’s squad for the Pacific Nations Cup and a World Cup qualifier, three years since his sacking by Australia.
Former All Blacks Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa have also been included in the squad following changes to World Rugby’s eligibility rules.
Scrumhalf Augustine Pulu, who has two Test caps for the All Blacks, is also in the squad.
The 73-Test Folau, who is of Tongan descent, had his contract with Rugby Australia terminated in 2019 after he posted a meme on social media which said “hell” awaits homosexuals and other groups.
Folau returned to Rugby Union last year and has been playing in Japan for the Shining Arcs, coached by former Waratahs mentor Rob Penney.
Six months ago a pathway back to international level opened up when World Rugby changed its rules, allowing players who had not played a Test for three years to switch nations and represent the country where a parent or grandparent was born.
Folau, a three-times Wallabies Player-of-the-Year and Super Rugby’s all-time top try-scorer, is “going to bring a lot of experience to the table”, Tonga coach Toutai Kefu told ABC Radio.
“His presence is going to be one of the most exciting factors we’re looking forward to,” said Kefu.
“He has a whole new set of skills that we haven’t had before.”
The 33-year-old Folau believes the new eligibility rule could be a game-changer for Pacific Island teams.
“It’s only going to raise the standard across the board of world rugby and strengthen those Tier Two nations,” he told AFP in a recent interview.
“It’s going to strengthen Tonga, it’s also going to strengthen Samoa, Fiji – all those guys will be available to represent their nations.”
Fekitoa, who played 24 Tests for the All Blacks between 2014 and 2017 and now plays for Munster in Ireland, was born in Tonga and moved to New Zealand for school.
Piutau, who played 17 Tests until 2015 and now plays for the Bristol Bears, was born in New Zealand to Tongan parents.
Tonga will meet Pacific Nations Cup hosts Fiji, Samoa and an Australia ‘A’ team at the July 2-16 tournament.
A week later, they face the winner of the Asia Rugby Championship in a one-match playoff to decide who will join South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and a team from the Europe 2 zone in Pool B at the World Cup.
Tonga squad: Sigfried Fisi’ihoi, Tau Kolomatangi, David Lolohea, Samiuela Moli, Siua Maile, Jay Fonokalafi, Siate Tokolahi, Ben Tameifuna, Sosefo Apikotoa, Tanginoa Halaifonua, Viliami Taulani, Lotu Inisi, Solomone Funaki, Sione Tu’ipulotu, Samuela Lousi, Halaleva Fifita, Veikoso Poloniati, Sonatane Takulua, Augustine Pulu, Manu Paea, William Havili, James Faiva, Malakai Fekitoa, Afusipa Taumoepeau, Fetuli Paea, Fine Inisi, Solomone Kata, Salesi ‘Charles’ Piutau, Tima Fainga’anuku, Israel Folau, Anzelo Tuitavuki.
Additional source: AAP