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'I'm sure there'll be controversy': Kefu reveals Israel Folau's Test plans after World Rugby rule change

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24th November, 2021
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Israel Folau will join Tonga’s squad for their matches next year after World Rugby relaxed eligibility laws on Thursday.

The world governing body approved a major amendment to their eligibility policy which will allow players to switch countries more easily from next January.

Folau, one of the Wallabies’ most outstanding backs who was sacked by Australia over homophobic social media posts, will launch a second international career thanks to his Tongan heritage.

“Israel Folau is ready to jump on board. He’ll come in the team, or the squad, next year,” Kefuu told ABC Radio on Thursday.

“There’s a host of players there and hopefully on the back of those arivving it may turn some players to put on the red and white as well.”

Kefu acknowledged that Folau will bring headlines.

“I’m sure there will be controversy but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes,” he said.

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“That’s always been our goal is to get those players playing for us. We don’t have the luxury of getting a lot of time together.

“Given we have players all over the world coming together for a short period of time it’s very hard to get the team playing the way we want.

“The biggest change we can make in getting wins is improving the class of player that we have and changing this rule does that straight away.”

The move could prove a huge boon for developing rugby nations – particularly the Pacific Island sides Tonga, Samoa and Fiji – in time for the 2023 World Cup in France.

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Currently, internationals aren’t eligible to play for a second nation unless they stand down from Test rugby for three years and play sevens for their second country in an Olympic qualifying event.

But under the amended rules, as long as the three-year break is still met, players can switch nations from January 1 if they, or a parent or grandparent, were born in the country they now wish to represent.

In Folau’s case, he hasn’t competed internationally since playing his 73rd and last Test for the Wallabies against England at Twickenham, three years ago to the day.

After January 1, any player meeting the criteria can make an immediate transfer application.

The move could, in theory, be a game-changer for the Pacific Islands with the amendment meaning that, as well as Folau, New Zealand luminaries like Charles Piutau, who has 17 All Blacks caps, George Moala and Vaea Fifita could play for them.

Samoa could be bolstered by former All Blacks too with former fly-half Lima Sopoaga, Steven Luatua, Julian Savea and Denny Solomona all being in the frame for a new international allegiance.

England powerhouses Billy and Mako Vunipola could end up playing for Tonga in 2024, while star centre/wing Manu Tuilagi would be able to play for Samoa down the line.

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“We have listened to our membership and players and sought to update the regulation recognising the modern professional rugby environment without compromising the integrity of the international game,”said World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont.

It’s not been easy to switch international allegiance, with only a handful of players taking advantage of the Olympic loophole since it was introduced before the debut of rugby sevens at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Former Wallabies duo Lopeti Timani and Cooper Vuna became eligible for Tonga in recent years, with the former having made his debut for the ‘Ikale Tahi against England earlier this month after a dozen Tests for Australia.

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