Australia A set for reboot, potential clash with Israel Folau

Australia A will compete in the upcoming Pacific Nations Cup, which could yet include a Tonga side laden with international talent including former Wallabies star Israel Folau.

Rugby Australia on Thursday afternoon confirmed the reboot of the Australia A program, which has been out of action for over a decade, with chief executive Andy Marinos declaring it a huge boost for the nation's high-performance pathways.

"Our High Performance review highlighted a relative lack of game time for the younger, developing professional players in our system," Marinos said.

"With Super Rugby Pacific, they will likely play around 14 first-class matches in a typical season -- not including pre-season or Finals -- and some players in NSW and QLD have the opportunity to transfer into Shute Shield and Hospital Cup.

"Alongside working on competition structures that can help to alleviate this relative lack of game time, one of our priorities has been to re-establish Australia A to provide additional top-flight matches.

"This will help to develop a deeper squad of elite players, as well as giving players some representative experience to take back to their Super Rugby Pacific clubs - which can only be a good thing for Australian rugby."

The Pacific Nations Cup will be contested on the same consecutive matchdays as the Wallabies' three-Test series with England, though Australia A will face each of Samoa, Tonga, and tournament hosts Fiji away from home.

World Rugby's decision to change the law governing international eligibility, which means that players can represent a second nation after a three-year stand-down period, and to which they at least have a grandparent link, means that Australia A could confront a swathe of former Wallabies and All Blacks stars across the three Pacific nations.

While Fiji already boasts a fine Test squad, coach Vern Cotter could call on the likes of Seta Tamanivalu, and Waisake Naholo, while Samoa-qualified players Steven Luatua, Victor Vito and Lima Sopoaga would make a huge difference.

But it is the players that Tonga coach and Wallabies great Toutai Kefu has flagged as potential targets that could really make a mark on the international arena, with Charles Piutau, Malakai Fekitoa, Vaea Fifita and of course Folau all reported to have been sounded out by Kefu.

Speaking to foxsports.com.au earlier this year, Kefu indicated Folau, who had his contract torn up by Rugby Australia over anti-gay social media posts before challenging the decision and winning a confidential settlement, had expressed a desire to run out for Tonga with his stand-down period from the Wallabies now complete.

"I mentioned that to him (Folau) and his eyes lit up at the chance of playing the Wallabies," Kefu said.

"Putting this team together for next year, a lot of the other players, players like Charles Piutau, I saw George Moala and Pita Ahki on Wednesday, Malakai Fekitoa, they all keep asking, is Izzy going to play? And I've said to them, of course, he's bought in."

Whether the Pacific Nations Cup is enough to draw Folau back to the international arena remains to be seen, but it appears in all likelihood he will be wearing the red jersey of Tonga in France next year.

Wallabies centurion Sekope Kepu is another player who could line up for Tonga, with the front-rower currently captaining Moana Pasifika in Super Rugby Pacific.

The tournament will meanwhile ensure that Australia's next crop of players remain active and gain valuable international exposure while the Wallabies are engaged with Eddie Jones' tourists, with coach Dave Rennie expected to trim back the size of his Test squad compared to the last two years.