Israel Folau is set to return to test rugby after being named in the Tongan squad for their upcoming Pacific Nations Cup and World Cup qualification matches.
Having sat out the last three years of test rugby following his sacking by Rugby Australia in 2019 for controversial social media posts, Folau has been able to take advantage of new eligibility laws in the game and pledge his allegiance to Tonga through his parental link.
Folau is one of several former test players to be named in the squad, alongside former All Blacks Malakai Fekitoa, Charles Piutau and Augustine Pulu. Former New Zealand rugby league representative Solomone Kata has also been named to take part in the rugby test arena for the first time – one of several Moana Pasifika Super Rugby players named in the squad.
After being dropped by Rugby Australia, Folau made a quick return to league with the Catalans Dragons in the Super League for the 2020 season, but has continued his career in union this year in Japan with Shining Arcs. In nine appearances, he scored nine tries and showed that, at 33, he still has plenty to give on the footy field.
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Folau will join the team as the most experienced campaigner in the test arena, having earned 73 caps for Australia between 2013 and 2019.
Tonga will resume on their road towards World Cup qualification when the Pacific Nations Cup gets underway in early July. The competition features Tonga, Fiji, Samoa and Australia A, with matches taking place in Suva and Lautoka in Fiji.
They will then go on to play against either Malaysia, South Korea or Hong Kong for a spot in the final World Cup qualification bracket alongside Portugal (Europe), either USA or Chile (Americas), and an African team to be decided. The final stage of the qualification process will conclude in November with a four-team round-robin format final qualification tournament, with the winner earning a repechage spot in the Rugby World Cup in France next year.