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 in Tonga’s national rugby squad for the first time.
The former internationals have bolstered the Ikale Tahi side thanks to a recent change in 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 switching 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 just 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 switch to play for the Waratahs in 2013. He turned to rugby union after a brief stint in the AFL, playing for the Greater Western Sydney Giants in their fledgling years.
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He played 73 Tests for the Wallabies but his religious beliefs promoted him to begin posting confronting homophobic posts on social media.
The controversy first started in 2018 and then ramped up in April 2019 as Folau continued to make social media posts, that caused offense to the LGBT community and outraged Wallabies teammates, Rugby Australia staff and sponsors, despite being warned huge he was in danger of having his contract torn up.
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 with Tima Fainga’anuku, Solomone Kata, William Havili and Fine Inisi amongst their representation.
Tonga’s coach Toutai Kefu has named a 31-man squad for the Pacific Nations Cup and the 2023 Rugby World Cup qualifiers.
The easing of World Rugby’s eligibility criteria has had a dramatic impact on Tonga’s squad. On last year’s tour of New Zealand, Kefu was forced to ring around club sides to try and find enough players to fill his squad after MIQ and injury woes.
It will be the first time Tonga has played on the international stage since the volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami that hit the country in January.
Fiji is set to host the Pacific Nations Cup tournament featuring Samoa, Tonga and Australia A from July 2-16.
Hookers: Samiuela Moli, Siua Maile, Jay Fonokalafi
Loosehead props: Sigfried Fisi’ihoi, Tau Kolomatangi, David Lolohea
Tighthead props: Siate Tokolahi, Ben Tameifuna, Sosefo Apikotoa
Backrow: Tanginoa Halaifonua, Viliami Taulani, Lotu Inisi, Solomone Funaki, Sione Tu’ipulotu
Locks: Samuela Lousi, Halaleva Fifita, Veikoso Poloniati
Halfbacks: Sonatane Takulua, Augustine Pulu, Manu Paea
Five-eighth: 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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