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What the hell is Israel Folau doing?

‘Potentially, there’s a rugby league contract… I don’t think it’s just the case that he did that and didn’t understand the consequences.’

ON THIS WEEK’S The42 Rugby Weekly, Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella joined Gavan Casey to discuss the future of sevens rugby in Ireland, the sport’s growing issues at the breakdown and how it’s officiated, and the four provinces’ Pro14 fixtures this weekend — all of which are crucial in their own way.

There was only one place to start, however, and that was with news that Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Rugby Union are set to sack Israel Folau, arguably the world’s best player, after his latest bout of homophobia on social media.

Murray and Bernard believe there might be more to the story than meets the eye, with the latter also suggesting that most of Folau’s team-mates would probably no longer wish to play alongside the 29-year-old in any case.

You can watch the lads’ discussion in the video above, or if you’ve forgotten your headphones on your commute, you can read what they had to say below.

The full podcast, included an extended version of the Folau chat, is available on iTunes and all major podcast providers, or alternatively in the following SoundCloud link:

Murray Kinsella: “For me, it’s a really strong and the right decision from Rugby Australia. I really did not expect this — certainly so swiftly.

“Rugby Players Australia have put out a statement saying that while they don’t endorse or condone Folau’s posts, they say it’s imperative that the proper process is followed under the code of conduct — obviously in regards to contracts.

“So I think this one is going to roll on a little bit. The intention is to sack him, and I think that would be a decision — if followed through — which would be strongly supported.

“I don’t think this is the end of it — I think we’re in for a bit of a saga here — but I’d congratulate Rugby Australia on making a strong move.”

Bernard Jackman: “I commend the Australian rugby union and the Waratahs for the strong leadership they’ve shown. So often we see governing bodies fudge around.

“The reality is I don’t think there’s any way back from this [for Folau]. What mitigating circumstances, realistically, can come up? He’s had past experience in stepping out of line on this. There’s been a clause put in his contract warning him about future issues.

“I just think it’s a really strong statement. Best player in the world or not, you’ve got to have better morals and better values, and adhere to the rules. And he’s blatantly gone against the grain, so I think he’ll be gone.

“It’ll take a while, probably, but I can’t see how he can play for Australia during the World Cup given what he’s done.”

MK: “And would some of his team-mates even want to play with him? David Pocock has kind of accepted him back into the group — someone who has really strong beliefs [to the contrary] and would absolutely hate this hate speech from Folau.”

BJ: “Well, Pocock is probably an exception in that he’s willing to speak openly about his views and his frustrations with Israel in the past, but the majority of players wouldn’t want to [play with Folau]. But they wouldn’t come out and say it.

That’s why it’s great, I think, that the governing body and the leadership have taken a stand. It’s very difficult as a player in a dressing room to have played with another player and be really forthright with your views [about them], especially when he’s such a star and strong personality.

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP AUSTRALIA ARGENTINA Folau celebrates with team-mate David Pocock after scoring a try during the Rugby Championship match between Australia and Argentina on 15 September 2018. Source: AAP/PA Images

Gavan Casey: “Do you really think the players wouldn’t want to play with him — even if they strongly disagreed with his views?”

BJ: “Nah, it’s too much. I think it’s too much.

Players would respect his right to have his own views, but the problem is he has the potential to have massive influence across the world because of the fact that he’s a very good rugby player. And that’s unfortunate. That doesn’t mean he knows the right and wrong, but he could potentially influence people who are at the stage of making up their own mind as to what’s right and wrong. And I think players wouldn’t want to play with him, no, because it’s not right, the stuff he’s promoting.

GC: “It will roll on, and it’ll be rolled out in the media about what you can say, or, ‘oh, we can’t say anything anymore‘, and ‘he’s entitled to his beliefs‘, and all of that kind of stuff that we hear constantly.

But free speech entitles you to say what you want — it doesn’t entitle you to escape the consequences of what you say. By definition, free speech entitles somebody else to think you’re an absolute melon for having that opinion.

“You can say, yes, they’re his religious beliefs. Cool… They’re warped. Some religious beliefs are just not right. Not everything is correct — there’s still right and wrong. It’s this fascinating thing that people believe because of free speech, you can be impervious to any criticism. It doesn’t work that way.

“The statement from [Rugby] Australia says they’ve warned him “formally and repeatedly”. In any other walk of life — if I walked into this office and started spouting hate speech or anything like that, maybe there’d be a warning first, but if I did it again I’d be out the door. He’s an employee.”

MK: “And regardless of your religious beliefs, his comments are actually dangerous. That level of homophobia from someone who is such a big presence and such a powerful role model within Australian sport across the board — he’s been in three professional sports — it’s just dangerous.

I’m sure a lot of people will be like, ‘Listen, he’s just expressing his views’, or whatever, but you have to question what the hell is he doing here? Why has he been quiet since? Why has he been uncontactable? Why isn’t he trying to fight for his contract knowing that he was breaking those rules?

“And you kind of wonder what’s going to happen next with him. Is he trying to get out of the contract? Why has he clearly — so clearly — broken the rules that they set out for him?”

BJ: You wouldn’t know what the background is, but he knew when he put that [post] up that it was going to be very touch-and-go whether he survived. Potentially, there’s more to this than meets the eye. Potentially, there’s a rugby league contract. Maybe he wants to have a go at NFL — like, who knows? That’ll all come out. But I don’t think it’s just the case that he did that and didn’t understand the consequences.

“If [Rugby Australia] and the Waratahs have issued him with warnings, and offered clarity around what he can and can’t do, he had to have known that this was going to test the validity of his contract. Potentially, he doesn’t care, he’s going to give up being a professional athlete. But potentially someone like him will be in demand in other places.”

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP AUSTRALIA ARGENTINA Folau in full flight. Source: AAP/PA Images

GC: That’s the thing, it could work out in his favour financially.

BJ: Yeah but who cares? I still think… You can’t have the argument, ‘Oh, we’re not going to release him from his contract because we don’t want him to benefit financially.’ You’ve just got to say, ‘What’s the right and wrong thing to do here?’ The wrong thing to do is keep him and have him play in the World Cup and have him still part of our game. The right thing to do is cut him loose, best of luck to him, and let someone else worry about him.

GC: “Well, Australia have made the right decision — now it’s up to someone else to make the right decision as well. And they won’t.”

BJ: “Yeah, it mightn’t happen. There have been a lot of issues in NRL — in Australian rugby league — around discipline, around poor behaviour, and the talented athletes always get taken back. The averages joes get put in the scrap heap. But he’s someone who can win games for clubs, so it’s up to the coaches and the boards of those clubs to decide whether they want to carry that baggage with them for the sake of results.”

Murray and Bernard also delved into how big a blow the impending loss of Folau would be to Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika ahead of the Rugby World Cup later this year, and how the former Leinster boss finds himself in a tricky situation at the helm of his national side.

MK: “They’re losing one of the best fullbacks in the world, a guy whose aerial skills are unprecedented. His ability to get off the ground is just exceptional. He became the top try-scorer in Super Rugby just very recently and is an absolute weapon in attack.

“Just aerially — you can build a gameplan around that, really. The Waratahs have increasingly done that. So, if he’s not there, it’s a major blow to them [Australia] coming into a massive tournament. They had been assembling a nice squad there, making some moves with their coaching team as well, and Cheika would have felt things were kind of coming together. To get this news, for him, I guess is just a massive blow.”

Australia Training Session - Principality Stadium Folau in Wallabies training last November. Source: David Davies

BJ: “I think Australia are in a pretty tricky period now because I know Michael’s looking for a new attack coach, but I think of all the top tier countries — bar something potentially happening with France and [Fabien] Galthié — everyone else seems to have their coaches locked in for the World Cup.

It’s going to be a very short period, and he’s had some rejections in terms of guys he wants to bring in. Rugby Australia have put Scott Johnson in, kind of above him, with a say in selection. Usually, something like that happens two or three years out and all the issues are sorted out — the personality clashes and the power struggles happen before the World Cup. So that’s obviously something they’ve got to sort out pretty quickly. And now, they lose potentially their best player.

“Being head coach of Australia is a difficult job at the moment just with the way they’re finding it so hard to compete with the other codes, but I feel for Cheika a lot in terms of this disruption that he has with very little time to fix it.”

Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Bernard Jackman to discuss Izzy Folau’s impending sacking by Australia and all the week’s news on the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

Subscribe to our new podcast, The42 Rugby Weekly, here:

Rugby Australia to sack Israel Folau for ‘disrespectful’ social media posts

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