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Defiant former Wallabies star Israel Folau insists he has "no regrets" over the messy saga that ended his Rugby Australia (RA) career after revealing plans to play in next year's World Cup in France.
Folau was famously sacked by RA in 2019 for saying that "hell awaits" gay people and others he considers sinners in a post on social media that can still be seen on his Instagram account and has been liked almost 75,000 times.
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He had previously been embroiled in a similar row and he went on to cause further offence in 2019 when he suggested that bushfires and drought ravaging Australia were "God's judgement" for the legalisation of same-sex marriage and abortion.
Folau took RA to court for unfair dismissal, demanding $14 million in compensation under employment legislation that bans sacking someone because of their religious beliefs.
The case was settled out of court with RA reported to have paid Folau $4 million and the player claiming he had been "vindicated".
The dual-code international moved to Japan at the end of last year to resume his rugby union career after a brief return to rugby league, and he is hoping to take advantage of a new rule that allows him to represent the country of his parents' birth - Tonga.
Speaking about the saga and his hopes of returning to the Rugby World Cup after being part of the Wallabies team that lost the 2015 World Cup final to New Zealand at Twickenham - Folau remained philosophical.
"I have no regrets about anything but it's led me here to Japan and I'm grateful for the opportunity," said Folau, who has scored eight tries in seven games for his new team, who are bottom of the first-division table.
"I'm just stoked to be playing rugby again. It's a different experience to what I'm used to back in Australia but it's something that I'm really enjoying."
The New South Wales-born 32-year-old is eligible to play for Tonga and said it would be "special" to make the switch after being sounded out by head coach and Wallabies legend, Toutai Kefu.
"Representing your heritage and where you're from, representing your parents is something that is quite close to not only myself but to many other Polynesians," said Folau, Super Rugby's all-time leading try-scorer.
"It would be a huge honour if I got the opportunity. We'll see if that opportunity comes about but I'd love to put the Tongan jersey on and represent Tonga."
Israel Folau could take advantage of new eligibility rules
Governing body World Rugby approved a landmark change to its international eligibility rules in November last year.
Players can now switch teams if they have not been selected for their national side for at least three years and have a parent or grandparent born in the country they wish to represent.
Folau meets that criteria, having won the last of his 73 caps for the Wallabies in 2018 before he was booted out for a "high-level breach" of Rugby Australia's code of conduct.
He said he has now "moved forward from what's happened in the past" and was enjoying playing again after joining Japanese club NTT Communications Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu on a two-year deal.
Next year's World Cup in France could give him the chance to end his career on a high if Tonga qualify, and he thinks the new eligibility rule could be a game-changer for Pacific Island teams.
"It's only going to raise the standard across the board of world rugby and strengthen those Tier Two nations," he said.
"It's going to strengthen Tonga, it's also going to strengthen Samoa, Fiji — all those guys will be available to represent their nations."
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