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Israel Folau: Tonga to impose social media restrictions ahead of international rugby return

Israel Folau was named in Tonga's squad for the Pacific Nations Cup, three years after he was sacked by Rugby Australia over homophobic comments on social media; Tonga coach Toutai Kefu said he trusted Folau would not cause problems for the team

Israel Folau in action for Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu
Image: Israel Folau has been playing in Japan for club side Shining Arcs

Israel Folau will be a prized addition to Tongan rugby but will have restrictions on what he posts on social media, head coach Toutai Kefu said.

Folau, an evangelical Christian, will soon make his return to international rugby, three years from his sacking by Rugby Australia over homophobic comments he posted on social media.

Former World Cup winner and Wallabies great Kefu said he had yet to discuss social media with Folau but trusted the 33-year-old would not cause problems for his team in the meantime.

"That's probably the elephant in the room," said Kefu. "At this point in time, [trust] is what we probably have to rely on.

"But I mean, we would have some restrictions, like we always do every campaign with all the players.

"I'm sure we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

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Folau joined Catalans Dragons in 2020 and there was controversy on his Super League debut after some Castleford fans said they were told to remove rainbow flags

Outside back Folau has posted only a handful of times to the more-than-400,000 followers on his social media accounts since being sacked in 2019.

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While the post that triggered his dismissal remains on one of his accounts, the dual-code international has steered clear of controversy while rebooting his professional rugby career.

Folau returned to rugby league in 2020 after he was thrown a lifeline by Catalans Dragons, despite opposition from their rival Super League clubs and the governing body.

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Folau scored five tries in 15 appearances for Catalans before returning to Australia

He played in 15 out of a possible 17 matches and agreed a contract extension to the end of 2021. However, he did not return for pre-season, the Dragons allowing him to stay in Australia in order to attend 'a personal family situation'.

Catalans agreed to release the dual-code international in June 2021 to enable him to resume his career in Australia.

Folau, who scored 37 tries in 73 Tests for the Wallabies, was named in Kefu's squad last week for next month's Pacific Nations Cup, which will feature hosts Fiji, Samoa and an Australia 'A' team.

He will also be in the selection frame for Tonga's 2023 World Cup playoff against an Asia-based side on July 23, to be held on Australia's Sunshine Coast.

Bristol's Charles Piutau
Image: Bristol's Charles Piutau (pictured) and Folau have switched allegiances to Tonga

World Rugby's decision last year to allow players to switch their international allegiance paved the way for Folau to represent Tonga, along with former All Blacks Charles Piutau and Malakai Fekitoa.

Kefu is excited about what Folau and other seasoned internationals could do for Tongan rugby, which has long struggled to retain talent in the face of more lucrative opportunities offshore.

"I've known Israel for a long time," said Kefu. "He's going to bring his professional mindset, he's going to bring a set of skills that we've never seen in our environment.

"We're going to have a good group of young players as well.

"Imagine their eyes when they're in the room with the likes of Piutau and Malakai and Israel.

"This is going to be a fantastic opportunity for these young guys to learn."

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