Israel Folau will MISS the Rugby World Cup after failing to recover from a knee injury…but this former Wallabies star will represent Tonga at the tournament
A ‘devastated’ Israel Folau will miss the upcoming Rugby World Cup due to a knee injury, the Tonga Rugby Union said on Monday.
The former NRL and Wallabies star was left out of head coach Toutai Kefu’s 32-man squad after failing to recover from a knee problem and will sit out the tournament alongside Telusa Veainu.
“Isileli Folau (knee) and Telusa Veainu (hamstring) have recurrences of existing injuries and will not be available for the tournament,” the union said in a statement.
Kefu said Folau was ‘devastated’ by missing out and indicated that one more player is expected to be added to the squad before the August 28 deadline.
“It’s a squad I’m very proud to coach and I know all the players look forward to proudly representing their families and all Tongans around the world,” said the former Wallabies No8.
Israel Folau will miss the Rugby World Cup due to a knee injury
Toutai Kefu has named a 32-man squad for the tournament, which begins on September 8
“Unfortunately, some of our brothers, Isileli Folau and Telusa Veainu, will not be able to come due to existing injuries.”
The Rugby World Cup kicks off in France on September 8, with Tonga kicking off their campaign against reigning Six Nations champions Ireland in Nantes nine days later.
Meanwhile, George Moala has been selected despite serving a five-week suspension for a dangerous tackle against Canadian star Ben LeSage on August 14.
The Tongan’s tip tackle was penalized with a red card, but his initial 10-week suspension was subsequently halved.
“George Moala, with his suspension reduced to five weeks, will be able to join the side halfway through the campaign,” said Kefu.
Moala is one of four former All Blacks on the squad, along with Malakai Fekitoa, Vaea Fifita and Charles Piutau. Former Wallabies lock Adam Coleman is also included in the 32-man group.
Folau moved to Tonga last year when he represented the Ikale Tahi at the Pacific Nations Cup tournament after World Rugby changed eligibility rules.
Folau, an evangelical Christian, had his Rugby Australia contract broken in 2019 after he posted a meme on social media saying that homosexuals and other groups he considered to be ‘sinners’ have ‘hell’ waiting.
Former Wallabies lock Adam Coleman is included in the 32 man group
George Moala (centre) has been included in the World Cup squad despite a five-week suspension for a dangerous tackle earlier this month
Folau, who had already faced criticism for expressing opposition to same-sex marriage in 2017 ahead of a national plebiscite on legalizing same-sex marriage in Australia, dismissed claims that he was bigoted or homophobic.
However, his social media post and its fallout caused bitter division.
Rugby Australia felt Folau had no choice but to terminate his contract, a move which angered some players who shared his Christian faith and Polynesian heritage.
Folau then took Rugby Australia to court for unfair dismissal, seeking $14 million in damages under employment law that prohibits firing an employee based on their religious beliefs.
The matter was eventually settled out of court and reportedly cost Rugby Australia $4 million, roughly the total value of his four-year contract.
An NRL star with the Melbourne Storm and the Broncos, Folau made the move to Union after two disappointing seasons with Greater Western Sydney in the NEAFL and AFL.
Folau (second from right) moved to Tonga last year and played in the Pacific Nations Cup tournament
He made his rugby debut for the Waratahs in 2013, scoring 60 tries in 96 games in seven seasons for the club, as the New South Wales team won a maiden Super Rugby title in 2014 and reached the semi-finals in 2015 and 2018.
Just months into his Super Rugby career, Folau made his Wallabies debut against the British and Irish Lions as Australia lost the Test series 2-1.
He went on to play 73 Tests for the Wallabies, scoring 37 tries, the fourth highest in Australian rugby history, behind only David Campese with 64, Chris Latham and Adam Ashley-Cooper with 40 and 39 respectively.
Folau returned to rugby league in France in 2020 and attempted to revive his career in the sport in Australia, but was blocked by local officials.