Former Australia star Israel Folau made a hugely successful start to his Japanese career on Saturday, dusting off the cobwebs with a match-winning brace after more than 1,000 days away from rugby union.
Folau—who was sacked by Rugby Australia in 2019 after posting homophobic views on social media—looked mightily impressive on debut for Rugby League One outfit Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu.
The ex- NRL star was named at full-back as his new club travelled to face Kobelco Kobe Steelers, and it wasn't long before fans were reminded why he was formerly regarded as being one of the world's elite.
Folau, 32, required fewer than 12 minutes to dot down for his first Shining Arcs try, running a superb support line to finish off a break started by Australia-born Japan international James Moore.
It was a timely impact considering hosts Kobe had scored first to race in front, but fly-half Otere Black—who joined Shining Arcs after leaving the Blues in Auckland last year—converted to tie the game up at 7-7.
The visitors scored again to lead 14-12 at the break, but momentum swung back in favour of the Steelers, who were 18-17 in front with less than five minutes remaining.
That's when Folau's well-known aerial dominance came to the fore, a trait of which his team-mates appeared all too aware as a hopeful high kick was launched into Kobe's goal area.
The former Wallabies talisman used every bit of his 6'4" frame to squeeze between two defenders and pick the ball out of the air, landing on one of his markers before a routine dot down to go 24-18 ahead.
The Steelers managed to score one final try in response but failed to add the extras, giving former Waratahs head coach Rob Penney the winning start he sought—by a single point.
It served to remind Folau's critics that, for all his faults outside the pitch, he remains a potent force in the 15-a-side sport.
Folau hasn't published any more of his religious-based views on social media since August 2019, not long after he made a post suggesting "hell awaits" homosexuals if they did not "repent" for their sins.
Former Australia team-mate Liam Gill told Fox Sports earlier this week that his reunited team-mate can once again become a worldly force in rugby: “Izzy has just picked up where he left off.
“I dare say once he plays this season of the Japanese League One, he’ll be considered one of the best in the world again.
“He hasn’t really left anything behind in his time off.”
Folau is expected to make a run at joining Tonga's ranks ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup after a change to Test eligibility laws allowed certain players to represent a second nation.
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