Former Wallabies winger Israel Folau is expected to make his long-awaited return to international rugby later this year.
Former Wallaby Israel Folau is expected to make his long-awaited return to international rugby later this year, with the 33-year-old named in Tonga’s squad for the Pacific Nations Cup and World Cup qualifying.
Rugby Australia terminated Folau’s contract in 2019 after the winger posted homophobic content to social media platform Instagram.
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Following a brief stint with Super League side the Catalan Dragons, the 33-year-old announced last year he would line up for the Southport Tigers on the Gold Coast, a move that was famously supported by controversial politician Clive Palmer.
But on Friday morning, Folau and former All Black Charles Piutau were included in the 31-player Ikale Tahi squad for July’s Pacific Nations Cup and World Cup qualifying tournament.
Folau, who is currently representing the Shining Arcs in Japan under former Waratahs coach Rob Penney, is eligible to play for Tonga due to recent changes to World Rugby’s eligibility laws, ABC News reports.
“He’s going to bring a lot of experience to the table,” Tonga coach Toutai Kefu told ABC Radio Australia.
“His presence is going to be one of the most exciting factors we‘re looking forward to.
“It would have been at least a couple of years ago that we started having conversations about him possibly representing Ikale Tahi.
“It was quite informal back then — it was just an informal chat — and then, as his three-year stand-down approached, when that was going to finish there was a possibility of him playing Sevens to qualify for us and he was open to that.
“But then, fortunately, they changed that rule in November and he didn‘t need to go through that route anymore. All he had to do was stand those three years down and he would qualify straight away.
“He has a whole new set of skills that we haven‘t had before.
“Things seem to be coming together at the right time.
“We‘ve still go some more individuals to come into the squad, so it’s only going to get better.”
Folau represented Australia in 73 Test matches after making his international debut in 2013, scoring 37 tries for the Wallabies.
He also made 96 appearances for the New South Wales Waratahs in Super Rugby, and still holds the all-time try-scoring record with 60.