Mon. Nov 29th, 2021

Former Wallabies star Israel Folau was able to represent Tonga at the next Rugby World Cup, after changes in eligibility requirements opened the door for him to switch.

Folau was expelled from Rugby Australia in 2019 after homophobic posts on social media and has been out of the international rugby union ever since.

This absence, combined with the fact that both his parents are Tongan, may open the door for the cross-coded star to join ‘Ikale Tahi in time for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

Previously, a player could not switch from one union to another if they had represented their nation’s senior team, but it has now been scrapped.

Now the player must show “a close and credible link” to that country – if they, one of their parents or one of their grandparents was born there; or if they have lived there for five years in a row, or 10 years up.

If it gets stuck, the player can simply stay away from international rugby for three years before returning to the new national side.

Tongan head coach and former Wallaby Toutai Kefu told ABC’s Pacific Beat that he was talking to Folau about taking the plunge.

“I do not have a problem with that. There have been no restrictions on the part of World Rugby,” he said.

There have long been calls for rule changes, especially to allow Pacific stars to play for their parents’ countries or even their own birth, and Oceania Rugby President Richard Sapias said the vote could reshape the rugby union in the southern hemisphere.

“For a country the size of Tonga, imagine how many players they have abroad,” he told Pacific Beat.

“There are a lot of talents out there, and that gives them a wide range of options to choose from.”

Australia will host the Rugby World Cup 2027

Players from Australia's national rugby union team, the Wallabies, are projected onto the Sydney Opera House.
The Wallabies most recently won the World Cup in 1999 and reached the finals in 2003 and 2015.(Getty: Brendon Thorne / Rugby Australia)

World Rugby also announced its “favorite candidates for the upcoming World Cup, where Australia will host the 2027 men’s tournament.

The World Rugby Council met last night and announced that it would work exclusively with Australia on a model. However, the host rights will not be officially locked until a vote in May next year.

Australia have not hosted the Rugby World Cup since 2003, when the Wallabies lost to Jonny Wilkinson’s English team in the final, with the 2015 team’s only second appearance in a final since then.

The Wallabies last lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in 1999, and Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan said winning the rights to host could help move the sport back towards its halcyon days.

“Throughout this process, we have had the genuine belief that the time has come to bring the Rugby World Cup back to our shores.”

England were announced as the “preferred candidate” to host the 2025 women’s tournament.

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