Israel Folau limps off on test rugby return in Tonga’s 36-0 loss to Fiji

At ANZ National Stadium, Suva: Fiji 36 (Tevita Ratuva try 7min, Jiuta Wainiqolo try 11min, Kalaveti Ravouvou try 25min, Setareki Tuicuvu try 56min, Vinaya Habosi try 63min; Teti Tela 4 con, Seta Tuicuvu pen) Tonga 0. HT: 22-0.

Israel Folau’s return to international rugby was one to forget, limping off early in Tonga’s Pacific Nations Cup defeat to Fiji in Suva on Saturday.

The dual-code former Australian star – named on the team list as Isileli Folau – lasted less than half an hour on his debut for the Ikale Tahi, succumbing to a leg injury as the visitors to ANZ National Stadium were belted 36-0.

Folau played the last of 73 tests for the Wallabies in 2018, before having his contract torn up the following year due to his anti-gay social media posts.

Israel Folau endured a sorry return to test rugby with Tonga on Saturday.

Pita Simpson/Getty Images

Israel Folau endured a sorry return to test rugby with Tonga on Saturday.

Since then, the 33-year-old has plied his trade with French Super League club the Catalans Dragons (2020), third-tier league side the Southport Tigers (2021), then this year turned out for Japanese rugby club Shining Arcs Tokyo- Bay Urayasu, who suffered a shock relegation to Division 2.

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Thank you World Rugby last November relaxed eligibility lawsFolau was back on the big stage, qualifying for Tonga through parental links and with coach Toutai Kefu’s strong desire to have a player of his caliber involved.

However, in what was a dreadful opening for Tonga, who fell behind 19-0 after 25 minutes, Folau, in the No 14 jeresy, was quite the anonymous figure, getting his hands on the ball just once, where he was well-tackled close to the Fiji tryline.

He made a good scramble tackle soon later, but that was his day done, said to have pulled up lame in chasing one of his side’s restarts, then being replaced in the 28th minute by fellow debutant Tima Fainga’anuku – brother of Leicester Fainga’anuku, who is set to make his All Blacks debut on Saturday night against Ireland.

Folau wasn’t the only prominent former international on his debut in the match, with three former All Blacks spread across the two sides.

Malakai Fekitoa and Charles (Salesi) Piutau lined up at second five-eighth and fullback, respectively, for Tonga, while Seta Tamanivalu came off the bench for Fiji.

Israel Folau was subbed off in the 28th minute of his debut for the Ikale Tahi, due to a leg injury.

Pita Simpson/Getty Images

Israel Folau was subbed off in the 28th minute of his debut for the Ikale Tahi, due to a leg injury.

Fekitoa went on some of his renowned hard carries but endured several handling issues, including when he had a try rightly ruled out by Kiwi referee Ben O’Keeffee for a little knock on; Piutau showed his noted fine footwork and dangerous running, while Tamanivalu went close to scoring a try, but was beaten to the ball in the in-goal.

By that time, Fiji were essentially safe, anyway, up 29-0 before the hour-mark.

They had started in fine fashion, scoring two tries in five minutes to race to a 12-0 lead after as many minutes to get the crowd of around 15,000 in early raptures.

Tonga were then their own worst enemies on attack. They coughed up too much pill, had a rolling maul turned over close to the line, then a woeful 5m lineout ended in a 95-metre stunner to Fiji second-five Kalaveti Ravouvou, who was joined in the in-goal by the gleefully diving team – you have.

Down 22-0 at the break, Tonga’s day was summed up when Sione Havili’s 51st minute try was also scratched due to a forward tip on from Anzelo Tuitavuki.

And the hosts did not need a second invitation to pounce, scoring eye-catching tries either side of the hour-mark, with center Waisea Nayacalevu breaking and putting fullback Setariki Tuicuvu away, before blindside flanker Mesu Kunavula unloaded nicely for star Drua winger Vinaya Habosi to light it up again.

Rather remarkably, Tonga enjoyed 57% possession and 52% territory through the match, camping six minutes and 18 seconds in Fiji’s 22m zone compared to the home side’s 3:24, conceded only eight penalties to 16 and had eight handling errors to 11.

The teams will be back in action next Saturday, in Lautoka, with Tonga taking on Manu Samoa, and Fiji facing Australia A.

Earlier on Saturday, in Suva, Samoa scored a late try to beat Australia A 31-26.

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