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Controversial Folau to end four-year Test rugby exile by making Tonga debut

Tonga will take on Fiji this weekend.

Israel Folau's contract with Australia was terminated over a homophobic social media post.
Israel Folau's contract with Australia was terminated over a homophobic social media post.
Image: PA

CONTROVERSIAL FORMER WALLABY Israel Folau declared Thursday it was “awesome” to be ending a four-year Test rugby exile by making his debut for Tonga against Fiji at Saturday.

“The opportunity to connect with the boys, back with the culture, and also a big part of that is our faith in God as well, it’s been a great week so far,” said the 73-Test flyer who is of Tongan descent.

Folau’s revived Test career, after being sacked in 2019 by Rugby Australia for posting homophobic comments on social media, has dominated the build-up to this year’s Pacific Nations Cup which takes place in Suva, Fiji, over the next three weekends.

The rugby showpiece for Tonga, Fiji and Samoa is returning after a two-year absence caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A change in World Rugby’s eligibility criteria, allowing players to switch allegiance to a country where they have a birthright, has allowed Folau along with former All Blacks Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa, to bolster Tonga’s ranks.

The tiny Pacific kingdom are seeking to win the tournament for the first time in its 15-year-history.

A week after their final match they will play the winner of the Asia Rugby Championship — Hong Kong or South Korea — for a place in Pool B at next year’s World Cup.

In the first round on Saturday they face hosts Fiji in Suva, while Samoa play Australia A at the same venue.

Fiji and Samoa have already qualified for the 2023 World Cup in France.

Fiji are seeking a record sixth Pacific Nations Cup title but coach Vern Cotter is wary of Folau, Piutau and Fekitoa.

“We know those players have certain traits and we will look to shut them down in that area,” said Cotter, whose own squad has benefited from the new eligibility rules with the inclusion of former All Black Seta Tamanivalu.

“Folau is very good in the air depending on how we kick. Fekitoa has good feet in the midfield and we will have to keep an eye on him. We know how dangerous they are so we will focus more on our game in order to shut them out.

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“Tonga are always physical so we need to be ready to face the one-on-one confrontations from the set-pieces. Our go forward is important and we need to dominate in that area.”

Folau had his contract with Rugby Australia terminated after saying “hell awaits” gay people in a social media post.

However, there are no restrictions on his public statements while in the Tonga camp, according to coach Toutai Kefu, also a former Wallaby great, who said he preferred to let his players make their own decisions.

– © AFP 2022

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