Folau’s test return short-lived as Fiji blank Tonga 36-0

Former Wallabies and now Ikale Tahi Tongan fullback Israel Folau during a team training session at Albert Park in Suva on Monday. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU

Israel Folau’s return to international rugby lasted only half an hour as his Tonga team were thrashed 36-0 by a clinical Fiji in their Pacific Nations Cup opener in Suva on Saturday.

The former Wallabies outside back was playing his first test since he was sacked by Rugby Australia in 2019 for social media posts considered homophobic.

The 33-year-old got just one touch of the ball before limping off with his team already 19-0 down in front of a crowd of just under 15,000 at Fiji’s National Stadium.

Benefiting from a rule change that makes it easier to switch allegiance, the visitors also fielded former All Black backs Malakai Fekitoa and Charles Piutau but they were served only scraps by the Tonga pack.

Fiji, helped by combinations forged in Super Rugby with Fijian Drua, simply dominated the setpiece and breakdown as they built a 22-0 halftime lead.

Lock Tevita Ratuva, winger Jiuta Wainiqolo and debutant centre Kalaveti Ravouvou scored tries before the break, the latter after a trademark Fiji move featuring pace, power and a string of offloads.

Fullback Seta Tuicuvu crossed in the 56th minute after a break from skipper Waisea Nayacalevu before winger Vinaya Habosi further enhanced his burgeoning reputation by scoring his team’s fifth try on his test debut.

Former All Blacks centre Seta Tamanivalu also made his return to international rugby after a gap of five years from the Fiji bench in the second half.

Earlier at the same stadium, winger Nigel Ah Wong’s last minute try secured Samoa a 31-26 win over Australia ‘A’ in the opening match of the three-week tournament.

Ah Wong intercepted Lalakai Foketi’s pass on the Australian 22-metre line in the dying seconds and crossed unopposed for his second try to break a 26-26 deadlock.

Australian ‘A’, who trailed 19-7 at halftime, had fought back to level the scores in the 76th minute with a converted try from replacement scrumhalf James Tuttle.

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