After being left out of Tonga’s squad due to a knee injury, Israel Folau will not play at Rugby World Cup 2023.
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Under World Rugby’s eligibility laws, which were updated in 2021, Folau switched his allegiance to the Pacific Island nation and was set to join a beefed-up Tonga squad in France.
On Monday, he was omitted from the 33-man squad after failing to overcome a knee injury. Tonga opens its World Cup campaign on Sept. 16 against heavyweights Ireland in Nantes.
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In 2019, Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia for repeated anti-gay social media posts ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which would have been Folau’s second appearance at the global showpiece.
In 2022, Folau made his debut for Tonga, playing against Fiji in the Pacific Nations Cup, after filing a lawsuit against RA for unfair dismissal. The two parties later reached an undisclosed settlement of $1.5 to $6 million.
As part of Toutai Kefu’s 32-man team in France, Folau won’t wear the red jersey of Ikale Tahi, but former Wallabies Adam Coleman will. Tonga’s squad includes former All Blacks Charles Piutau, Vaea Fifita, Augustine Pulu, Malakai Fekitoa, and George Moala.
Despite Moala’s five-week ban for a dangerous tackle during Tonga’s recent World Cup warm-up match with Canada, he has been included. His case has drawn additional attention since Owen Farrell’s dangerous tackle on Wales back-rower Taine Basham was downgraded to a yellow from a red by an independent disciplinary panel, prompting Moala to appeal the ban.
In response, World Rugby appealed that decision, and Farrell will face a second hearing on Tuesday.
In spite of Farrell and Moala’s contrasting tackles, All Blacks star Richie Mo’unga was one of many who weighed in on the discrepancy between the two incidents and their respective hearings.
“The Farrell incident, someone who has history and who has been banned earlier this year, for them to turn around and say he’s got a zero-week ban, it’s a slap in the face,” Mo’unga told Radio New Zealand last week.
“There are boys in this [All Blacks] camp who feel for him [Moala] deeply and a lot of Pacific Island boys in the camp who are pretty gutted about that scenario and the way it’s unfolded.
“It seems there’s a double standard going on, especially with the tier two teams and the Pacific Island nations around how they get judged or how they get treated.”
“This is the squad that will be taking us to the 2023 Rugby World Cup,” Kefu said in a statement.
“It’s a squad I’m very proud to coach and I know all the players are looking forward to representing their families and all Tongans around the globe with pride.
“Unfortunately a couple of our brothers, Israel Folau and Telusa Veainu, won’t be joining us to due to existing injuries.”
Forwards: Sosefo ‘Apikotoa, Adam Coleman, Vaea Fifita, Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, Feao Fotuaika, Solomone Funaki, Tanginoa Halaifonua, Sione Havili Talitui, Tau Kolomatangi, Paula Latu, Samiuela Lousi, Sitiveni Mafi, Siua Maile, Samiuela Moli, Paula Ngauamo, Semisi Paea, Ben Tameifuna, Sione Vailanu.
Backs: Pita Ahki, Malakai Fekitoa, William Havili, Fine Inisi, Solomone Kata, Otumaka Mausia, George Moala, Manu Paea, Charles Piutau, Augustine Pulu, Sonatane Takulua (captain), Kyren Taumoefolau, Afusipa Taumoepeau, Anzelo Tuitavuki.