Israel Folau’s return to international rugby could not have gone worse after walking onto the field with a different name listed.
Israel Folau made his return to international rugby after more than three years and seven months — and he’s going to have to wait for his next opportunity.
The former Wallabies star — who is now representing Tonga — suffered a nightmare return in Saturday’s Pacific Nations Cup clash with Fiji in Suva where he suffered a hamstring injury and was forced from the field.
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His immediate return in the Pacific Nations tournament is now under a cloud for the nation’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 ineffectual touches prior to limping off in the 27th minute.
The 33-year-old injured his leg in a collision when chasing a kick and it only got worse as he watched his team lose 36-0 from the sideline.
Folau played 73 Tests for the Wallabies before being sacked by Rugby Australia for posting a homophobic social media post and his only rugby since has come this year in the Japanese club game.
Born to Tongan parents, he was eligible for Test selection under new World Rugby regulations, which allow an international switch after three years of inactivity.
Folau surprised fans when he was listed on the official team sheets by his full name, Isileli Folau.
Folau was also listed as “Isileli” when Tonga announced its team last week — a change to how he appeared on team sheets when playing for the Wallabies.
Two former All Blacks backs — Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa — also made their Tonga debut but they couldn’t halt a Fiji side who dominated upfront and scored five tries, including three to France-based professionals.
Lock Tevita Ratuva, wing Jiuta Wainiqolo and centre Kalaveti Ravouvou crossed within the first 25 minutes to hand the hosts a 22-0 lead at halftime.
Outside backs Setariki Tuicuvu and Vinaya Habosi completed the scoring, cementing Fiji’s favouritism to win the tournament a sixth time in 15 editions.
In the earlier game, wing Nigel Ah Wong crossed for his second try in the final minute to lift Samoa to a dramatic 31-26 win over Australia A, having snatched an intercept thrown by Lalakai Foketi, one of five Wallabies-capped players in the beaten side.
Samoa led 19-7 at halftime but Australia A’s fightback began through a try to captain Ryan Lonergan, before Fraser McReight bagged his second and James Tuttle finished a sweeping attack to level the scores 26-26.
Samoa’s other tries went to Seilala Lam, D’Angelo Leuila and Jonathan Taumateine.
The two remaining rounds will be played over successive weekends at Lautoka.
It comes after Folau made a rare public appearance in an interview with the Tongan team’s social media channels last week.
“It’s been awesome to be in camp with the Ikale Tahi,” Folau told Tonga Rugby Union earlier this week.
“For me, to come back to the team, with the opportunity to connect with the boys, back with the culture, and also a big part of that is our faith in God.
“It’s been a great week so far, and we’re looking forward to spending time with the boys over the next five weeks.”
Folau took the governing body to court for unfair dismissal, demanding $14 million in compensation under employment legislation that bans sacking someone because of their religious beliefs.
The case was settled out of court with Rugby Australia reported to have paid Folau $4 million and the player claiming he had been “vindicated”.