Israel Folau at centre of fresh rugby uproar after infamous saga

The controversial former Wallabies star is embroiled in fresh drama.

Israel Folau's s selection in the World XV side to play the Barbarians has not come without controversy. Pic: Getty
Israel Folau's s selection in the World XV side to play the Barbarians has not come without controversy. Pic: Getty

Former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen admits there will be "some people hurt" by the fact controversial ex-Wallaby's rugby star Israel Folau has been picked to play in the World XV side to play against the Barbarians at Twickenham. Folau and current Wallabies coach Eddie Jones are set to lock horns in the high-profile exhibition fixture, with Jones' Baa Baas side trying to topple Hansen's World XV stars.

Folau was famously sacked by Rugby Australia (RA) in 2019 for saying that "hell awaits" gay people and others he considers sinners in a post on social media. He had previously been embroiled in a similar row and he went on to cause further offence in 2019 when he suggested that bushfires and drought ravaging Australia were "God's judgement" for the legalisation of same-sex marriage and abortion.

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The 34-year-old took RA to court for unfair dismissal, demanding $14 million in compensation under employment legislation that bans sacking someone because of their religious beliefs. The case was settled out of court with RA reported to have paid Folau $4 million and the player claiming he had been "vindicated".

Folau left Australian rugby as arguably the Wallabies' brightest star, eventually switching back to rugby league to play for French team, the Catalans Dragons. Folau has since returned to rugby, playing in the club game in Japan while switching his national allegiance to Tonga, who he hopes to play for at the Rugby World Cup.

Hansen has acknowledged that Folau's selection in his side is a controversial one, with England's governing Rugby Football Union (RFU) planning to fly a gay pride flag at Sunday's non-cap match at Twickenham in a show of support for the LGBTIQA+ community. The move is seen as a direct response to Folau's inclusion in the fixture.

Israel Folau famously won a massive payout after being sacked by Rugby Australia over homophobic posts. Pic: Getty
Israel Folau famously won a massive payout after being sacked by Rugby Australia over homophobic posts. Pic: Getty

"It's a consequence of Folau's selection and I think it's a good thing. It's an opportunity to show support to that flag. I don't have a problem with it," Hansen said.

"There wouldn't be one there if Israel wasn't playing so whenever we can bring attention to people who are suffering in a positive way, that's good. They deserve to be loved and cared for as much as anybody else. If we all did that it'd be a happy place, wouldn't it?"

Israel Folau's views not shared by Steve Hansen

Hansen says he understands the uproar around Folau and respects everyone's rights to their own opinions on the matter. However, the World Cup-winning coach says he does not share the same views as Folau, whose selection in the World XV side was purely a rugby decision.

"He is a very good rugby player," Hansen told reporters. "And I know by picking him that there will be some people hurt. And I get that.

"However, I want those people to understand that Israel's beliefs and views are not ours. And (we) don't agree with them. But he's a rugby player first and foremost and he's been sanctioned, those sanctions have finished, he's playing rugby, he's probably going to go to the World Cup."

Hansen, who led the All Blacks to World Cup glory in 2015, will go head-to-head against Barbarians boss Jones. The Aussie coach - who recently took charge for a second stint as Wallabies coach - is making his first return to Twickenham since being sacked by England in December.

Hansen hailed Jones as a "great rugby man" when asked whether England had been right to sack a coach who took them to the 2019 World Cup final, having reached the showpiece match in 2003 with the Wallabies. "Eddie has got a good record at World Cups," Hansen added.

"And he was pretty focused on making sure he got that team to the World Cup and wanted to win it. So that person who was so hungry and so experienced in that environment is no longer there."

with agencies

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