Former Wallabies star Israel Folau may represent Tonga at the next Rugby World Cup after changes in eligibility requirements opened the door for him to transition.
- To be requalified, players must demonstrate a “reliable connection” with another nation and stay away from international rugby for three years.
- Folau was undermined by Australian Rugby in 2019 and both of his parents were Tongan.
- World Rugby has named Australia as the “preferred candidate” to host the 2027 Men’s World Cup.
Undermined by Australian Rugby in 2019 after homophobic social media posts, Folau has since exited international rugby union.
This absence, combined with the fact that his parents are Tongan, could open the door for the cross-coded star to join ʻIkale Tahi in time for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
Previously, if a player had represented their country’s senior team, they would not have moved from one alliance to the next, but this has now been shelved.
Now, the player needs to show a “close and reliable connection” to the country in question – if they, one of their parents or one of their grandparents was born there; or if they lived there for five or 10 years in a row.
If this is achieved, the player can abstain from international rugby for three years before rejoining the new national team.
Tongan head coach and former Wallaby Toutai Kefu told ABC’s Pacific Beat that he spoke to Folau about taking action.
“I have no problem with that. There were no restrictions on the World Rugby side,” he said.
There have long been calls for rule change, especially to allow Pacifica stars to play for their parents’ country or even their own birth, and Oceania Rugby president Richard Sapias said the vote could reshape rugby union in the southern hemisphere.
“For a country the size of Tonga, you would imagine the amount of players overseas,” he told Pacific Beat.
“There’s so much talent out there and it gives them a wide variety of opportunities to choose from.”
Australia to host 2027 Rugby World Cup
World Rugby has also announced its “preferred nominees for the upcoming World Cups, where Australia prepares to host the 2027 men’s tournament”.
The World Rugby Council met last night and announced that it will only work with Australia on a model. However, hosting rights won’t be officially locked until a vote in May next year.
Australia has not hosted a Rugby World Cup since 2003, when the Wallabies lost to Jonny Wilkinson’s English side in the final, and it is the team’s only other appearance in a final since 2015.
The Wallabies last lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in 1999, and Australian Rugby president Hamish McLennan winning hosting rights can help bring the sport back to its old days.
“Throughout this process, we sincerely believed it was time to bring the Rugby World Cup back to our shores.”
England has been announced as the “preferred candidate” to host the 2025 women’s tournament.