Former All Blacks and Wallabies stars Israel Folau, Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa are the leaders of the newly named Tonga team, which will compete in the July Pacific Nations Cup and World Cup qualifiers.
All three players were placed on Toutai Kefu ‘Ikale Tahi’ s 31 – member team to face Fiji, Samoa and Australia A in the Pacific Cup, which precedes the World Cup playoffs against Hong Kong, South Korea and Malaysia.
The inclusion of Folau, Piutau and Fekitoa means a return to international rugby for all three players under the new World Rugby Eligibility Laws introduced on January 1.
These laws allow players with a test limit to represent the second country to which they have qualified through the birthright after three years of withdrawal from international rugby.
Folau, Piutau and Fekitoa qualify for Tonga according to these rules, as 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 fired by rugby Australia the following year after he posted on Instagram, which said that hell was waiting for “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers” and others.
Since then, the 33-year-old has moved between rugby union and rugby league, but this year he found a home for himself at Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu in Japan Rugby League One, where he recorded 10 attempts in 12 matches.
Folau is expected to star in ‘Ikale Tahi’ alongside Piutau and Fekito, who both last played for the All Blacks in 2015 and 2017, respectively.
Piutau and Fekitoa have been playing for their clubs since leaving New Zealand for the wealth of Europe and will provide Tonze with a lot of star power in the squad, which also includes former two-test All Blacks defender Augustine Pula.
Pulu last played for the All Blacks in 2014 and joined Folau, Piutau and Fekitoa as four of 13 players ready to make their Ikale Tahi debut.
All but one of the other non-capped players on the side of Tonga are from Moan Pasifik, a new Super Rugby Pacific franchise that has provided Kef with a total of 13 players on his latest team.
Tonga’s capless Moana Pasifik players are Tau Koloamatangi and Joe ‘Apikotoa, Lock Veikoso Poloniati, Lota Inisi freelancer, Manu Paea midfielder, William Havili top five and Tim Fainga’anuku and Anzelo Tuitavuki.
Koloamatangi, the Hong Kong national team for one test, and Inisi were both part of the Tonga team, which faced the All Blacks, Samoa and the Cook Islands last July, but never entered the field.
All these players are joined by former Highlanders and Chiefs Siate Tokolahi, who now trades with Pau in France as an unassigned contingent in the ‘Ikale Tahi’ team.
Kefu also named five other Moan Pasifik players – hooker Sam Moli, free forwards Solomone Funaki and Sione Tu’ipulotu, midfielder Fine Inisi and wing Solomone Kata.
Toulon half-defender Sonatane Takulua, Bordeaux support Ben Tameifuna, Highlanders midfielder Fetuli Paea, Scarlets lock Sam Lousi, Harlequins free forward Viliami Taulani and Pau Siegfried Fisiihoi support are other notable inclusion in the Tonga lineup.
Other former internationals, such as former All Blacks midfielder George Moala, are now also eligible to select Tonga, but have not been included in the squad, while more are expected to be available in the coming months.
This could be seen by former Wallabies duo Sekope Kepu and Adam Coleman, as well as ex-All Blacks pair Vaea Fifita and Atu Moli, joined by Team ‘Ikale Tahi for the November test window.
Tonga will begin its Pacific Nations Cup campaign against Fiji in Suva on July 3, followed by matches against Samoa and Australia A in Lautoca on July 10 and July 17, respectively.
‘Ikale Tahi will then play his World Cup qualifier against the winner of the Asian Rugby Championship next month in Australia on July 23rd.
The winner of this playoff match will join South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and Romania in Group B at next year’s World Cup in France.
Tonga Pacific Nations Cup and World Cup qualifiers
Released props: Siegfried Fisiihoi, Tau Kolomatangi, David Lolohea
Hookers: Sam Moli, Siua Maile, Jay Fonokalafi
Fixed props: Siate Tokolahi, Ben Tameifuna, Joe ‘Apikotoa
Locks: Sam Lousi, Leva Fifita, Veikoso Poloniati
Free forward: Tanginoa Halaifonua, Viliami Taulani, Lotu Inisi, Solomone Funaki, Sione Tu’ipulotu
Halfbacks: Sonatane Takulua, Augustine Pulu, Manu Paea
Top five: William Havili, James Faiva
Midfielders: Malakai Fekitoa, Afusipa Taumoepeau, Fetuli Paea, Fine Inisi
Outer back: Solomone Kata, Charles Piutau, Tima Fainga’anuku, Israel Folau, Anzelo Tuitavuki
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