SYDNEY - Coach Michael Cheika said on Monday he would not have been able to select fullback Israel Folau for the Wallabies after his latest “disrespectful” social media posts attacking gay people.
Cheika spoke to reporters Monday for the first time since Folau, a devout Christian, posted on Instagram that gay people would go to hell unless they repented.
Cheika was flanked by Daryl Gibson who coaches Folau’s Super Rugby team, the New South Wales Waratahs, and Michael Hooper who captains the Wallabies and Waratahs, and who said he would have been reluctant to play beside Folau after his latest comments.
A day after Folau told a newspaper it would be “God’s will” if he never played again, Rugby Australia on Monday served him with formal notice that he had breached its Code of Conduct, starting a process expected to end with the termination of Folau’s Wallabies and Waratahs contracts.
“We appreciate this matter will attract significant interest but due process must be followed,” Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle told reporters.
“Israel had 48 hours to accept the sanction or have the matter sent to a code of conduct hearing.
Cheika said he had already formed the view that Folau couldn’t be chosen for the Wallabies after his latest posting. In 2017, Folau was warned by Rugby Australia after his use of social media to express opposition to gay marriage.
Chieka said Folau’s latest comments crossed a line.
“We’ve had the discussion about it after the last time about his right to believe and our support in that,” he said. “But getting out in that disrespectful manner publicly is not what our team’s about.
“We’ve had the discussion about it and that line’s then been crossed. When you play in the gold (Wallabies) jersey, we’re representing everyone in Australia.
“I felt that I needed to talk to him (Folau) about why, but I haven’t had that chance as yet.”
Asked if he would find it difficult to play next to Folau, Hooper, who looked deeply uncomfortable, reluctantly said he would.
“You take your friends warts and all, and your teammates,” Hooper said. “Like was said before, in this current state and being here and talking about this as a rugby player, it makes it hard, it makes it difficult.
“It’s hard being here. We’re rugby players for sure, we are trying to create the best team environment we possibly can and at national level.”
Gibson expressed disappointment that the issue of Folau’s religious views had arisen again.
“I’m disappointed in the fact that we’re here again, second year running, that we’re fronting up around an issue that on a large extent we’d settled and the impact that it has on the team,” he said.
Monday’s developments came after Folau told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper it would be “God’s will” if he didn’t play again. The Herald interviewed Folau after he attended a church service in western Sydney on Sunday at which speakers praised his comments and said he was being persecuted for his faith.
“First and foremost, I live for God now,” Folau said. “Whatever He wants me to do, I believe His plans for me are better than whatever I can think.
“If that’s not to continue on playing, so be it. In saying that, obviously I love playing footy and if it goes down that path I’ll definitely miss it. But my faith in Jesus Christ is what comes first.”
Folau, 30, said he had no intention of retracting or apologizing for his comments about gay people which, he insisted were based on his Christian beliefs.
“I’ll stand on what the Bible says,” he said. “I share it with love. I can see the other side of the coin where people’s reactions are the total opposite to how I’m sharing it.”
Folau indicated he was unlikely to legally challenge his termination, though some legal experts believe he would have a strong case if he asserted his right to freely express his beliefs.
Meanwhile, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen told reporters in Wellington Folau had let himself down with his latest social media statement.
“I think we all know what he has said isn’t right,” Hansen said. “There’s no point me adding my name to the end of that list and it’s been dealt with pretty strongly by his employers.
“He’s got the right to have an opinion, but I think he’s probably let himself down in the way he’s gone about that. Even this morning I read he firmly believes it, so he’s just missing one piece of the jigsaw puzzle I think.”