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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.

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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 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.

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.

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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.

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“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.

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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