Rugby: Israel Folau, former All Blacks Malakai Fekitoa, Charles Piutau named to Tonga squad for Pacific Nations Cup

A host of former All Blacks and sacked Wallabies star Israel Folau will turn out for Tonga in July's Pacific Nations Cup and upcoming Rugby World Cup playoff.

Naming a squad for the first time since a change in World Rugby's eligibility rules, Tonga have taken advantage of a number of new recruits, including several players boasting test experience for other nations.

In 2021, Tonga coach Toutai Kefu stated his desire to see a relaxation in World Rugby's eligibility rules to see his side compete at test level, following a 102-0 defeat to the All Blacks.

Former All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa is in line for his Tonga debut, after completing the previous eligibility route last year, but will be joined by the likes of Salesi (Charles) Piutau.

Piutau, 30, won 17 caps for the All Blacks from 2013 to 2015, before moving to Europe for club stints with the likes of Wasps, Ulster and Bristol Bears.

But the change in selection criteria will see him return to test rugby, wearing red instead of black.

Elsewhere, two-test All Blacks halfback Augustine Pulu is another to have been named to turn out for Tonga, after making his last international appearance in 2014.

Former Wallabies star Israel Folau, 33, can also make his debut for Tonga, after his Rugby Australia contract was torn up for a series of homophobic social media posts in 2019.

Folau made 73 appearances for the Wallabies during his time in test rugby, scoring 37 tries. In Super Rugby, Folau's 60 tries scored for the Waratahs is still a record that stands, despite not having played in nearly three years.

Ex-NZ Warriors centre Solomone Kata is another that could make his Tonga debut as part of the squad, named for the first time after he switched to rugby union in 2019.

Ex-All Blacks Salesi Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa.
Ex-All Blacks Salesi Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa. Photo credit: Image - Getty Images

Kata, 27, played 18 times for the Brumbies, before switching to Moana Pasifika for the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific season.

More former All Blacks, such as Ngani Laumape, have also signalled their intent to represent Tonga, but are yet to complete the required stand-down period after representing New Zealand.

Tonga will face Fiji, Samoa and Australia A in the Pacific Nations Cup, before meeting one of Hong Kong, Malaysia or South Korea in their playoff to reach the 2023 Rugby World Cup, held in France.

The World Cup playoff will be held on July 23, in Australia.

Tonga squad: Sigfried Fisi'Ihoi, Tau Koloamatangi, David Lolohea, Samieula Moli, Siua Maile, Jay Fonokalafi, Siate Tokolahi, Ben Tameifuna, Sosefo Apikotoa, Samiuela Lousi, Halaleva Fifita, Veikoso Poloniati, Tanginoa Halaifonua, Viliami Taulani, Lotu Inisi, Solomone Funaki, Sione Tu'ipulotu, Sonatane Takulua, Augustine Pulu, Manu Paea, William Havili, James Faiva, Malakai Fekitoa, Afusipa Taumoepeau, Fetuli Paea, Fine Inisi, Solomone Kata, Salesi Piutau, Tima Fainga'anuku, Israel Folau, Anzelo Tuitavuki