Israel Folau, Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa call Tonga a squad

Iama All Blacks and Wallabian stars Israel Folau, Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa title the newly named Tongo squad to compete in the Pacific Nations Cup and World Cup qualifier from July.

All three players were included in Toutai Kefu’s 31-man ‘Ikale Tahi squad to face Fiji, Samoa and Australia A in the Pacific Nations Cup, which precedes a World Cup final match against either Hong Kong, South Korea or Malaysia.

The inclusion of Folau, Piutau and Fekitoa marks the return to international rugby for all three players under the new World Rugby qualifying laws introduced on 1 January.

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These laws allow test-restricted players to represent a second country for which they are qualified by birth right after a three-year withdrawal from international rugby.

Folau, Piutau and Fekitoa qualify for Tonga under those regulations when all three players have been absent from test rugby for at least four years.

After playing the last of his 73 tests for the Wallabies in November 2018, Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia the following year after he posted an Instagram post that said hell awaits “drunks, gays, adulterers” and others.

Since then, the 33-year-old has been flirting between rugby union and rugby 13, but has found a home for himself at the Shining Arcs Tokyo Bay Urayasu in Japan Rugby League One this year, winning 10 tries in 12 matches.

Folau is expected to start in a stellar ‘Ikale Tahi back line alongside Piutau and Fekitoa, both of whom last played for the All Blacks in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

Piutau and Fekitoa players have starred for their respective clubs since leaving New Zealand for Europe’s fortunes, and will provide Tonga with plenty of star power in a squad that also features former two-test All Blacks halfback Augustine Pulu.

Pulu last played for the All Blacks in 2014, and joins Folau, Piutau and Fekitoa as four of 13 players prepare to make their ‘Ikale Tahi debuts.

All but one of the other unnamed players named on the Tongan side are from Moana Pasifika, the newcomer Super Rugby A Pacific franchise that provided Kefu with a total of 13 players in its newest squad.

The headless Moana Pasifika players in the Tongan squad are props Tau Koloamatangi and Joe Apikotoa, lock Veikoso Poloniatiloosen forward Lotu Inisihalfback Manu Paeafirst-fifth William Haviliand wings Tima Fainga’anuku and Angel Tuitavuki.

Koloamatangi, a one-try Hong Kong international, and Inisi were both part of the Tongan squad called up to face the All Blacks, Samoa and the Cook Islands last July, but never entered the field.

All of these players are registered by a former Highlanders and bosses prop Be Tokolahinow doing his business inside France for Pau, as the headless contingent in the ‘Ikale Tahi squad.

Five more Moana Pasifika players – hooker Sam Moli, loose forwards Solomone Funaki and Sione Tu’ipulotu, middle Fine Inisi and wing Solomone Kata – were also called by Kefu.

Toulon halfback Sonatane TakuluaBordeaux prop Ben TameifunaHighlanders midfielder Fetuli PaeaScarlet locks Sam LousiHarlequins loosen forward Viliami Taulani and Pau prop Siegfried Fisiihoi there are other notable inclusions in the Tonga arrangement.

Other former internationals, such as ex-All Blacks midfielder George Moalaalso now eligible for Tonga election but have not been included in this squad, while more are expected to become available in the coming months.

That could see a former Wallabies duo Sekope Kepu and Adam Colemanas well as an ex-All Blacks pair Vaea Fifita and Atu Moliadded to the ‘Ikale Tahi squad for the November test window.

Tonga will open its campaign against the Pacific Nations Cup Fiji in Suva on July 3, which will be followed by matches against Samoa and Australia A in Lautoka on 10 July and 17 July respectively.

The ‘Ikale Tahi will then play their World Cup qualifier against the winner of next month’s Asian Rugby Championship in Australia on July 23.

The winner of this final match will join South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and Romania in Pool B at next year’s World Cup in France.

Tonga Pacific Nations Cup and World Cup qualifying squad

Loosehead Props: Siegfried Fisiihoi, Tau Kolomatangi, David Lolohea

Lovers: Sam Moli, Siua MaileJay Fonokalafi

Tighthead Props: Be Tokolahi, Ben Tameifuna, Joe ‘Apikotoa

Locks: Sam Lousi, Fifita leverVeikoso Poloniati

Loose Forwards: Tangino Halaifonoa, Viliami TaulaniLot Inisi, Solomone FunakiSione Tu’ipulotu

Halfbacks: Sonatane Takulua, Augustine PuluManu Paea

First Five: William Havili, James Faiva

Midfielders: Malakai Fekitoa, Afuspa TaumoepeauFetuli Paea, Fine Inisi

Outer backs: Solomone Kata, Charles Piutau, Tima Fainga’anukuIsrael Folau, Anzelo Tuitavuki


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