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Israel Folau, Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa named for test rugby returns

By Tom Vinicombe
(Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)

Israel Folau will return to test rugby for the first time since 2019 when Tonga take on Fiji in the Pacific Nations Cup on Saturday – and he’ll be joined by former All Blacks Salesi ‘Charles’ Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa.

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33-year-old Folau scored 37 tries for Australia in 73 internationals between 2013 and 2019, has been named on the right wing for the match in Suva, with Piutau handed the fullback jersey and Fekitoa set for a run in the midfield.

The three former test stars will accompany nine other debutants in Tonga’s match-day 23.

In the front row, hooker Samiuela Moli will be sandwiched by props Siegfried Fisiihoi and Siate Tokolahi while Halaleva Fifita and debutant Veikoso Poloniati form a strong combination in the locks.

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The biggest challenge facing the All Blacks in their first test of 2022.

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The biggest challenge facing the All Blacks in their first test of 2022.

In the loose forwards, Grenoble’s Tanginoa Halaifonua will be joined by the Moana Pasifika pairing of Solomone Funaki and Sione Tu’ipulotu.

Sonatane Takulua will captain the side from halfback while William Havili has been handed the No 10 jersey for his first-ever test match, despite spending the bulk of the Super Rugby Pacific season at fullback for Moana Pasifika.

Anzelo Tuitavuki – the sixth Moana Pasifika representative in the starting line-up – will run out on the left wing to combine with Folau and Piutau while Perpignan’s Afusipa Taumoepeau will partner Fekitoa in the centres after earning his test debut against England last year.

There are six further possible debutants on the bench in the forms of props David Lolohea and Sosefo ‘Joe’ ‘Apikotoa, loose forwards Sione Havili Talitui and Lotu Inise, halfback Manu Paea and outside back Tima Fainga’anuku. They’ll be joined by the experienced Siua Maile and James Faiva.

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Having become a pariah in Australian sport after some poorly received social media posts, former Kangaroos representative Folau returned to rugby league in France in 2020.

He tried to revive his career in the sport in Australia but was blocked by local officials before switching back to rugby union last year, taking up a contract with Japan’s Shining Arcs.

“It’s been awesome to be able to come back and have the opportunity to connect with the boys, and with the culture as well,” Folau said in a video message this week. “A big part of that is our faith in God as well.”

Piutau last featured for the All Blacks in 2015 while Fekitoa departed New Zealand following the 2017 Super Rugby season.

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The ‘Ikale Tahi will take on Fiji at Suva’s ANZ Stadium at 3:30pm FJT on Saturday afternoon after Samoa do battle with Australia A.

Tonga: Salesi Piutau, Isileli Folau, Afusipa Taumoepeau, Malakai Fekitoa, Anzelo Tuitavuki, William Havili, Sonatane Takulua, Sione Tu’ipulotu, Solomone Funaki, Tanginoa Halaifonua, Veikoso Poloniati, Halaleva Fifita, Siate Tokolahi, Samiuela Moli, Siegfried Fisiihoi. Reserves: Siua Maile, David Lolohea, Sosefo ‘Apikotoa, Sione Havili Talitui, Lotu Inise, Manu Paea, James Faiva, Tima Fainga’anuku.

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Turlough 3 hours ago
'Let them keep talking' - Mike Catt claps back over Bok remarks

“You want that – not hatred – but whatever it is that stirs it all up. It’s good.” Agree with this. If you can put a common motivating idea in all your players heads during a game it can produce a real Team perfromance. Erasmus is pretty expert at this. It is quite clear that the comments by Etzebeth, Allende and others were not coincidence and were actioned to create animoisty before the series in order to galvanise the South African mind set. While I understand it, I don’t like it. They result in unnessary vitriol between supporters and for what? I don’t think any of the SA players seriously believe any of these claims and with Ireland ignoring them Erasmus won’t get the escalation he seeks. The vitriol shown by some SA and indeed NZ supporters is extremely weird for NH supporters (OK, maybe England have felt it) but it just feels very odd over a sport. Ireland were more or less sh1t for the first 100 years of their rugby, they have improved significantly in the last 25 to be in a position around now (it may not last) to go into a match with the big guns with a real shot of winning. The reaction to this from some SH supporters has been bizarre with conspiracy theories of ‘Arrogance’ fueling abuse from supporters and even NZ players to Irish crowds during the world cup. I love International rugby and the comraderie between supporters. I genuinely dread and dislike the atmosphere around games with the southern giants. They take this very personally. NH teams: play them, try and beat them, enjoy the craic with their players and supporters and wish them well. SH teams wish them well and they call you arrogant in the press months later. Its just a matter of try and beat them and then good riddance til the next time.

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