Fired Wallabies star gets lifeline for rugby test

This article was originally published by Stuff and is reproduced with permission

Controversial former Wallaby Israel Folau and ex-All Blacks Malakai Fekitoa and Salesi (Charles) Piutau have all been named to the Tonga national rugby union squad for the first time.

The former internationals have bolstered the Ikale Tahi side thanks to a recent change to World Rugby’s eligibility rules.

Folau had his Rugby Australia contract terminated in 2019 over a series of homophobic social media posts, but has previously expressed his desire to represent Tonga.

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Fekitoa played 24 Tests for the All Blacks between 2014 and 2017 before moving to the Northern Hemisphere to play for Toulon, then Wasps and now Munster.

Piutau played 17 Tests for the All Blacks before turning his back on New Zealand rugby at the age of 23.

Folau was a teenage prodigy in the NRL who went on to play for the Melbourne Storm, Brisbane Broncos, Queensland and Australia before making his second dramatic code change in 2013 to play for the Waratahs. He turned to rugby union after a brief stint in the AFL, playing for the Greater Western Sydney Giants in their younger days.

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He played 73 Tests for the Wallabies, but his religious affiliation encouraged him to make confrontational homophobic posts on social media.

The controversy began in 2018 and then intensified in April 2019 when Folau continued to make posts on social media, which deeply offended the LGBT community and outraged Wallabies teammates, Rugby Australia staff and sponsors, despite warnings that he was in danger of having his contract torn apart.

Halfback Augustine Pulu, who played two Tests for the All Blacks in 2014, has also been named in the star-studded backline.

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Super Rugby club Moana Pasifika has a strong contingent that includes Tima Fainga’anuku, Solomone Kata, William Havili and Fine Inisi.

Tonga’s coach Toutai Kefu has designated a 31-man roster for the Pacific Nations Cup and the 2023 Rugby World Cup qualifiers.

The relaxation of World Rugby’s eligibility criteria has had a dramatic impact on Tonga’s squad. During last year’s tour of New Zealand, Kefu was forced to visit the clubs to try and find enough players to fill his squad after MIQ and injuries.

It marks Tonga’s first international appearance since the volcanic eruption and ensuing tsunami that hit the country in January.

Fiji will host the Pacific Nations Cup tournament with Samoa, Tonga and Australia A. from July 2-16.

Tonga’s squad

whores: Samiuela Moli, Siua Maile, Jay Fonokalafic

Loose props: Sigfried Fisi’ihoi, Tau Kolomatangi, David Lolohea

Tight props: Siate Tokolahi, Ben Tameifuna, Sosefo Apikotoa

Back row: Tanginoa Halaifonua, Viliami Taulani, Lotu Inisi, Solomone Funaki, Sione Tu’ipulotu

Locks: Samuela Lousi, Halaleva Fifita, Veikoso Poloniati

half-backs: Sonata Takulua, Augustine Pulu, Manu Paea

Five-eighths: William Havili, James Faiva

Centers: Malakai Fekitoa, Afusipa Taumoepeau, Fetuli Paea, Fine Inisi

Outside backs: Solomone Kata, Salesi Piutau, Tima Fainga’anuku, Israel Folau, Anzelo Tuitavuki

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