Wallabies coach Michael Cheika says Israel Folau’s “disrespectful” comments would currently make it impossible to pick the superstar for this year’s Rugby World Cup.
Folau remains stood down over his latest social media post proclaiming hell awaits “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”.
Those remarks make it difficult for Cheika to envision the 30-year-old being part of the Wallabies’ plans for the tournament in Japan, starting in September.
“You wouldn’t be able to,” Cheika said when asked whether he’d be able to select Folau again under the circumstances.
Cheika, Wallabies and NSW Waratahs captain Michael Hooper and Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson all fronted the media in Sydney on Monday morning
Asked if he was comfortable taking the field again alongside Folau, flanker Hooper said “In this current state and being here and talking about this as a rugby player, it makes it hard, it makes it difficult.”
While emphasising what their teams stood for, especially in regards to diversity, they also stressed Folau was entitled to his beliefs.
“Everybody has the right – and we respect that right – to believe whatever they like, we’re not moral judgers and no one should be,” Cheika said.
“You take your friends warts and all, and your teammates,” Hooper said.
“It’s frustrating having to stand here because I can’t speak for Israel, but it is part of the team celebrating our diversity and celebrating that in a respectful manner.”
Cheika conceded Folau had crossed a line which was marked when the religiously-motivated Folau made similar tweets a year ago.
“Getting out in that disrespectful manner publicly is not what our team’s about,” Cheika said on Monday.
“When you play in the gold jersey, we represent everyone in Australia – everyone. Everyone that’s out there supporting us. We don’t pick and choose.”
Cheika didn’t think the issue would rear its head again after the controversy of last year’s tweets and Rugby Australia’s subsequent talks with Folau.
He had tried unsuccessfully to contact him for an explanation.
“We had a discussion at the end of the last time and made it pretty clear about his right to believe and our support in that if that’s what he wants,” he said.
“I felt that I needed to talk to him about why, and I haven’t had that chance as yet. I’m sure I will in the future at some stage when it settles down for him a little bit.
“I made the calls and left the messages. There’s no beef.”
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Folau had a right to an opinion but had probably let himself down in the way he had done so.
“Even this morning I read he firmly believes it so he’s just missing one piece of the jigsaw puzzle, I think,” Hansen said.
The Waratahs, who play Melbourne Rebels in a big Super Rugby Australian conference derby this weekend, have sidelined Folau.
He has refused to back down from his social media attack and says he’s prepared to walk away from the game for the sake of his faith.