Plans are afoot for Australia A to join this year’s Pacific Nations Cup, which would see Israel Folau play against his former nation.
What’s more, Tongan coach and former World Cup-winning Wallaby Toutai Kefu is hoping to have the Island Nation take on the Wallabies in Brisbane next year.
The match, which has been floated to Wallabies coach Dave Rennie and manager Chris Webb, would mark the 50-year anniversary since Tonga beat Australia 16-11 at Ballymore in 1973.
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But with World Cup years already filled to the brim, finding an availability in the schedule could scupper plans, particularly given the Wallabies will fly to France to take on the host nation before the tournament gets underway.
“We thought we could get a game with them before they fly out to France,” Kefu told foxsports.com.au from France, where the former Wallaby is mapping out a schedule with clubs and players about the nation’s 12-month road to the World Cup.
“We’re still working through a few things, so it still might happen.
“But you’re right, it’s the 50-year anniversary of that match.
“That happened at Ballymore and we would have loved to have had that game at Suncorp.
“That team, they still talk about that side in the streets and the bars, to beat the Wallabies back then was something else, so it would have been a fantastic opportunity to celebrate it.
“It would have been great timing before the World Cup.
“It would be a great occasion to celebrate Tongan Rugby Union history.”
While Tonga were smashed 102-0 by the All Blacks last July, the Pacific Island nations are back in the “picture” after a “game-changing” decision by World Rugby last November to allow national team players to switch countries.
After a three-year stand down period on the international stage, World Rugby now allows players to change allegiances if they were born in the country they want to represent or have a parent or grandparent born there.
The law change means players like Folau and former All Blacks Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa are eligible for Tonga.
Former Wallabies Sekope Kepu and Adam Coleman could also pull on the red jersey.
Although the Wallabies have a busy schedule in 2023, which includes three Rugby Championship matches and a second Test against the All Blacks, the re-emergence of Australia A could allow Rennie an opportunity to test his next generation of players or, indeed, those on the fringes of the national team.
Kefu said he did not care who lined up, but added it would be a nice moment by RA given the masses of Polynesian players who have pulled on the Wallabies jersey.
“Even if it’s not the full strength team, maybe it’s the guys on the fringe,” he said.
“We don’t care who plays.
“We’d be full strength, but something to mark the occasion and celebrate the particular moment in history, I think we’ve led the RA a few good Tongan players over the years.
“I think they owe us one.”
One player who could take on Australia as soon as the middle of the year is Folau, with the former three-time John Eales Medal winning excited at the prospect of reigniting his international career after his controversial sacking in 2019.
“I mentioned that to him (Folau) and his eyes lit up at the chance of playing the Wallabies,” Kefu said.
“Putting this team together for next year, a lot of the other players, players like Charles Piutau, I saw George Moala and Pita Ahki on Wednesday, Malakai Fekitoa, they all keep asking, is Izzy going to play? And I’ve said to them, of course, he’s bought in.”
The PNC is set to be held in Suva, Fiji, but at least one round could be held on the Sunshine Coast, while Tonga’s World Cup qualifier is also likely to be held in Queensland.
Rugby Australia CEO Andy Marinos said he was open to the idea.
“I think the biggest challenge next year is to find a window,” Marinos said.
“It’s a pretty condensed season. It’s subject to availability, but it’s probably a preliminary conversation at this time.”
What appears to be full steam ahead however is Australia A’s involvement in the PNC.
“We are looking at that with World Rugby on the feasibility of it, so we’re busy working on that as an option,” Marinos confirmed.
Following the culling of the National Rugby Championship, RA believes that bringing back the ‘A’ team will allow the next crop of players important minutes.
“We want to play and have the resumption of an ‘A’ program because it’s just important to give our guys as much game time as possible, especially leading into the World Cup,” Marinos said.
“It’s about the next generation that are going to be playing in 2025 (Lions series) and 2027 (home World Cup).
“For us, internally, we’ve been looking at the whole high performance structure and how best we can get our best players playing, having an A-team program is really important because it gives you the next tier of players an opportunity to put their hand up for high selection down the line.”