SYDNEY (Reuters) - Israel Folau’s controversial social media posts have hurt the New South Wales Waratahs but the Super Rugby side have managed to refocus ahead of Saturday’s clash with the Melbourne Rebels, flyhalf Bernard Foley has said.
The 30-year-old Folau, a devout Christian, sparked controversy for the second time in 12 months after posting that gay people were destined for “hell” if they did not “repent”.
Both Rugby Australia (RA) and the Waratahs said they intended to terminate his contract over the posts, which were similar to ones he made last year, and Folau has asked for a code-of-conduct hearing to be scheduled.
He has also been stood down from all rugby activity by the Waratahs and is unavailable for the clash with the Australian-conference leading Rebels at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
“I think he’s hurt the team, which is not what we’re doing and not why we play sport,” Foley told reporters in Sydney on Friday. “We’re a team and we encourage diversity.
“I also don’t think Izzy is a bad guy ... but I don’t agree with what he’s done so it’s a tough situation.
“Rugby is an inclusive sport. We want to engage all the diversity we have. We want a team sport that encourages diversity, to be inclusive of all backgrounds and all religions and all faiths.”
Foley added that the Waratahs had pulled together in the face of the controversy.
“What we experienced last year ... when there was controversy, the side really galvanized,” he said. “This week the team have come together. They know what the job is at hand.
“It comes down to how we perform as a team, not as individuals,” he said. “I think we have the depth in this side to be able to cope with that.
“We’re looking forward to going out there and getting the job done.”
The Rebels lead the Australia conference on 23 points, with the Waratahs second on 16 having played a game less.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford