Israel Folau is moving closer to an international return, with the former Wallaby set to make his debut for Tonga in July.
What’s more, the dual international could face Australia A on July 16 – the same day the Wallabies play England in Sydney – after Rugby Australia had its second side included in an expanded Pacific Nations Cup.
Whether Folau lines up against Australia A remains to be seen, with Tonga coach and former World Cup-winning Wallaby Toutai Kefu telling foxsports.com.au he would “rotate” his men but the 33-year-old was “definitely in the squad”.
Tonga, as well as fellow tier-three nations like Samoa, have had a major shot in the arm after World Rugby tweaked its eligibility laws late last year to allow players who had not represented a nation in three years to switch allegiances.
The eligibility changes mean Folau, who has not played for the Wallabies since scoring a double against England at Twickenham in November 2018, can play for Tonga immediately. Others like former Wallabies Adam Coleman and Sekope Kepu won’t be eligible until year’s end.
Former All Black Augustine Pulu will also feature in the squad, which will gather in Fiji mid-June, but George Moala will miss the tournament because of injury.
As revealed last month, Australia A have been included in the tournament and their inclusion is a boost for pathways and depth of the Wallabies.
Waratahs defence coach Jason Gilmore, who took the Junior Wallabies to the under-20s World Cup final in 2019, will coach Australia A.
He will be joined by Brumbies attack coach Rod Seib, Reds defence assistant Michael Todd and former British and Irish Lions lock and now Rebels forwards coach Geoff Parling.
Rugby Australia boss Andy Marinos stressed the importance of Australia A’s inclusion in the nation’s development.
“Our High Performance review highlighted a relative lack of game time for the younger, developing professional players in our system,” Marinos said.
“With Super Rugby Pacific, they will likely play around 14 first-class matches in a typical season – not including pre-season or finals – and some players in NSW and Queensland have the opportunity to transfer into Shute Shield and Hospital Cup.
“Alongside working on competition structures that can help to alleviate this relative lack of game time, one of our priorities has been to re-establish Australia A to provide additional top-flight matches.
“This will help to develop a deeper squad of elite players, as well as giving players some representative experience to take back to their Super Rugby Pacific clubs – which can only be a good thing for Australian rugby.”