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Israel Folau scores a double in his return to professional rugby

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)

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Israel Folau has made a successful return to rugby union, scoring two tries in the Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu’s 24-23 win over the Kobelco Kobe Steelers on Saturday.

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Playing his first professional rugby union match in over 1,000 days Folau lined up alongside players including Maori All Black Otere Black, and former Wallaby Liam Gill. It was the first match of the season in the new-look Japanese domestic rugby competition.

The Kobe Steelers, who were being led in attack by 2011 Rugby World Cup winning All Black Aaron Cruden at flyhalf, had practically all the ball inside the first four minutes, and got off to the perfect start as a result.

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Pablo Matera and Scott Robertson
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Pablo Matera and Scott Robertson

Lock JD Schickerling made a break deep into the Wild Knights’ 22-metre, and the hosts made the most of it. Playing with plenty of front foot ball, a short ball from Cruden to former Highlander Richard Buckman, saw the centre cross for the opener in the 3rd minute.

But once the Shining Arcs got their hands on the ball, they began to look quite dangerous in attack.

Folau’s first touch came just under five minutes into the contest, with the fullback managing to beat three defenders, including Aaron Cruden, with a big left footstep. This break into the Steelers’ 22-metre led to the visitors first real chance of the night, with Liam Gill knocking the ball on what seemed like inches from the tryline.

But six minutes later Folau well and truly announced his return back to the 15-man code, finishing off an impressive break created by flyhalf Otere Black and flanker James Moore. After getting the ball inside the 22-metre, Folau was tackled just short of the line but managed to reach out for the score.

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Soon after, Steelers winger Ataata Moeakiola was yellow carded for a professional foul, with a penalty try also being awarded. This gave the Shining Arcs a 14-7 lead.

As the half went on, Folau continued to look dangerous with ball in hand. Around the 30-minute mark, the fullback once again beat the first defender on what was another impressive burst.

In the final minute of the first half, Steelers Number Eight Brodi McCurran ran 30-metres for a crucial try in that stage of the game. The missed conversion saw the Shining Arcs lead by two at the break.

An Aaron Cruden penalty goal handed his side the lead inside the first 10 minutes of the second-half, but that’s how the scores stayed for nearly 20-minutes.

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Cruden and Black later traded penalty goals, with the Shining Arcs trailing by one once again inside the last 10 minutes of the match.

Inside the final five minutes of the match, the Shining Arcs had possession of the ball deep inside the Steelers half when they were awarded a penalty. A kick from Otere Black saw Folau leap highest, and bring the ball down for his second try of the night in the 76th minute.

Summarised by Stan Sport commentator Sean Maloney: “Oh wow he’s back.”

The visitors had a 18-24 lead with just a few minutes to play.

The drama didn’t stop there though, with replacement scrumhalf Daiki Nakajima scoring a try after the siren. But flyhalf Aaron Cruden couldn’t convert the try, with Folau’s side winning 23-24.

Earlier in the second-half, Stan Sport commentator and former Wallaby Drew Mitchell also commented on Folau’s return. Mitchell said that “it must be said, Israel Folau, looking pretty impressive in his first game back in a number of years.”

There are two more games that are set to be played in the Japan competition today, with the Green Rockets Tokatsu set to take on Tokohama Canon Eagles. In the other match, a star studded Tokyo Sungoliath will come up against Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo.

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