Tonga without Israel Folau at Rugby World Cup 2023, George Moala included

Tonga without Israel Folau at Rugby World Cup 2023, George Moala included
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Israel Folau will not feature at Rugby World Cup 2023, after the former Wallabies star was left out of Tonga’s squad because of a knee injury.

Folau had switched his allegiance to the Pacific Island nation under World Rugby’s eligibility laws, which were updated at the start of 2021, and was poised to join a number of former All Blacks in a beefed-up Tonga squad in France.

But he was unable to overcome a knee injury and was on Monday omitted from the team’s 33-man squad, which still has one position to be filled before Tonga opens its World Cup campaign against heavyweights Ireland in Nantes on Sept. 16.

Rugby World Cup 2023 would have been only Folau’s second appearance at the global showpiece, after he was sacked by Rugby Australia [RA] for repeated anti-gay social media posts ahead of the 2019 tournament.

Folau then launched legal action against RA for unfair dismissal, the two parties later reaching an undisclosed settlement that was reported to be anywhere between $1.5 and $6m. He then made his debut for Tonga in 2022, playing against Fiji in the Pacific Nations Cup.

While Folau won’t don the red jersey of Ikale Tahi in France, his former Wallabies teammate Adam Coleman was included among coach Toutai Kefu’s 32-man group. Coleman joins former All Blacks Charles Piutau, Vaea Fifita, Augustine Pulu, Malakai Fekitoa and George Moala in Tonga’s squad.

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Moala’s inclusion comes despite the centre’s five-week ban for a dangerous tackle during Tonga’s recent World Cup warmup clash with Canada. Moala has launched an appeal against the ban in a bid to feature at the World Cup, his case drawing extra attention after Owen Farrell’s dangerous tackle on Wales back-rower Taine Basham was downgraded to a yellow from a red by an independent disciplinary panel.

World Rugby has since appealed that decision with Farrell to face a second hearing on Tuesday.

All Blacks star Richie Mo’unga was one of many to add his voice to the discussion in the discrepancy between the two incidents and their respective hearings, despite the contrasting nature of the tackles of Farrell and Moala.

“The Farrell incident, someone who has history and who has been banned earlier this year, for them to turn around and say he’s got a zero-week ban, it’s a slap in the face,” Mo’unga told Radio New Zealand last week.

“There are boys in this [All Blacks] camp who feel for him [Moala] deeply and a lot of Pacific Island boys in the camp who are pretty gutted about that scenario and the way it’s unfolded.

“It seems there’s a double standard going on, especially with the tier two teams and the Pacific Island nations around how they get judged or how they get treated.”

Kefu, meanwhile, said Tonga were excited to showcase their talents on the global stage once more.

Israel Folau won’t be featuring at Rugby World Cup 2023, a knee injury cruelling his hopes of representing Tonga in France Pita Simpson/Getty Images

“This is the squad that will be taking us to the 2023 Rugby World Cup,” Kefu said in a statement.

“It’s a squad I’m very proud to coach and I know all the players are looking forward to representing their families and all Tongans around the globe with pride.

“Unfortunately a couple of our brothers, Israel Folau and Telusa Veainu, won’t be joining us to due to existing injuries.”

Tonga will be at long odds to progress from a stacked Pool B in France, but they will represent a far sterner opposition following the addition of Piutau, Fekitoa and Fifita, in particular, while they should also benefit from the creation of Moana Pasifika who have contributed eight players to Kefu’s World Cup squad.


Forwards: Sosefo ‘Apikotoa, Adam Coleman, Vaea Fifita, Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, Feao Fotuaika, Solomone Funaki, Tanginoa Halaifonua, Sione Havili Talitui, Tau Kolomatangi, Paula Latu, Samiuela Lousi, Sitiveni Mafi, Siua Maile, Samiuela Moli, Paula Ngauamo, Semisi Paea, Ben Tameifuna, Sione Vailanu.

Backs: Pita Ahki, Malakai Fekitoa, William Havili, Fine Inisi, Solomone Kata, Otumaka Mausia, George Moala, Manu Paea, Charles Piutau, Augustine Pulu, Sonatane Takulua (captain), Kyren Taumoefolau, Afusipa Taumoepeau, Anzelo Tuitavuki.

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