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Israel Folau changes name in nightmare international rugby comeback

Israel Folau’s return to international rugby couldn’t have been worse after walking onto the pitch with another name on the list.

Israel Folau returned to international rugby after more than three years and seven months – and he will have to wait for his next chance.

The former Wallabies star – who now represents Tonga – suffered a nightmare return in Saturday’s Pacific Nations Cup match with Fiji in Suva, where he sustained a hamstring injury and was forced off the field

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His immediate return to the Pacific Nations tournament is now under a cloud for the country’s upcoming tests against Samoa (July 9), Australia A (July 16) and a Rugby World Cup qualifier against Hong Kong or South Korea.

In a forgettable debut, Folau had just two ineffective touches before limping in the 27th minute.

The 33-year-old injured his leg in a collision chasing a staircase and things only got worse when he saw his team lose 36-0 from the sidelines.

Folau played 73 Tests for the Wallabies before being sacked by Rugby Australia for posting a homophobic message on social media and his only rugby since this year in the Japanese club match.

Born to Tongan parents, he was eligible for test selection under the new World Rugby regulations, which allow for an international move after three years of inactivity.

Folau surprised fans when he was listed on the official team magazines with his full name, Isileli Folau.

Folau was also listed as “Isileli” when Tonga announced his team last week – a change in how he appeared on team magazines when he played for the Wallabies.

Two former All Blacks backs – Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa – also made their Tonga debuts, but they couldn’t stop a Fiji side that dominated up front, scoring five tries, including three for France-based professionals.

Lock Tevita Ratuva, Jiuta Wainiqolo wing and center Kalaveti Ravouvou crossed in the first 25 minutes to give the hosts a 22-0 lead at halftime.

Outside defenders Setariki Tuicuvu and Vinaya Habosi rounded out the score, confirming Fiji’s favoritism to win the tournament for the sixth time in 15 editions.

In the earlier match, wing Nigel crossed over Ah Wong for his second last minute attempt to lift Samoa to a dramatic 31-26 win over Australia A after catching an intercept thrown by Lalakai Foketi, one of five Wallabies-capped players in the batted side.

Samoa led 19-7 at halftime, but Australia A’s fight back started with an attempt at captain Ryan Lonergan, before Fraser McReight brought in his second and James Tuttle completed a powerful attack to tie the score 26-26.

Samoa’s other attempts went to Seilala Lam, D’Angelo Leuila and Jonathan Taumateine.

The two remaining rounds will be played at Lautoka on consecutive weekends.

It comes after Folau made a rare public appearance last week in an interview with the Tongan team’s social media channels.

“It was great to be in camp with the Ikale Tahi,” Folau told Tonga Rugby Union earlier this week.

“For me, to come back to the team, to be able to connect with the guys, back to the culture, and also a big part of that is our belief in God.

“It’s been a great week so far and we’re looking forward to spending the next five weeks with the boys.”

Folau sued the governing body for unfair dismissal, demanding $14 million in compensation under labor laws that prohibit firing someone because of their religious beliefs.

The case was settled out of court with Rugby Australia, who reportedly paid Folau $4 million and the player claimed he was “just”.

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