Tonga could be set to give Israel Folau a route back into rugby union, with head coach Toutai Kefu saying he has ‘no concerns’ over the prospect having the sacked Wallabies star switch allegiance.
Folau was kicked out of Australian rugby in 2019 following a series of controversial social media posts, which included saying hell awaited ‘drunks, homosexuals, adulterers’, and led to a high-profile arbitration case with Rugby Australia.
Despite reaching a settlement, Folau’s reputation left no room for him in rugby union and led to the 73-Test full-back switching codes to join Catalan Dragons in the Super League.
Folau, a devout Christian, was reportedly bombarded with gay pornography by some of his former teammates at Catalan Dragons, where he spent one season before finding himself without a club as he does currently.
While the future of his club rugby remains uncertain, Folau has been offered a route back to Test level by the country of his birth, Tonga.
Head coach Kefu, appointed to a second stint by the Tonga RU last week, has condoned Folau’s past actions which cost him his place at the 2019 Rugby World Cup and said ‘we all grew up the same way’.
“He’s Tongan, he’s a bloody good player – we’re more than happy to have him and accommodate him… we’d have no concerns,” Kefu told Radio NZ.
“We all grew up the same way. We all went to Sunday School and then there’s different divisions of religion that we all grew up in. We certainly all support Israel and his views.”
Folau last featured for the Wallabies on their tour of Europe in 2018 and would need to complete a three-year stand down period before becoming eligible to play for a country where he holds another passport.
That timeframe complicates his chances of eligibility with the Olympic cycle acting as the conduit by which a player can switch the country they represent.
July’s Olympic qualification tournament in Monaco acts as the final chance for rugby players to change allegiances, and will come too soon for Folau’s required stand down time which will be completed in November by which time a new Olympic cycle will be underway.
That would leave Folau eligible to switch after playing at the 2023 Oceania Sevens Championship, a tournament which will run after the Rugby World Cup held in France that same year will have concluded.
Meanwhile, Kefu has also been in talks with Bristol Bears full-back Charles Piutau, Wasps centre Malakai Fekitoa and Clermont Auvergne wing George Moala about representing Tonga.
As of April 2021, Tonga sit 13th in the Men’s World Rugby rankings.