Veteran halfback Nick Phipps has praised Australian rugby bosses for acting quickly over the Israel Folau furore, admitting it’s been a distraction for the NSW Waratahs at a crucial time in their 2019 campaign.
Wallabies and Waratahs fullback Folau has been stood down and faces the sack after copping a breach notice from Rugby Australia over his controversial social media posts last week, having been warned after similar 2018 posts.
In the meantime, his Waratahs teammates are preparing for a home match against the Australian conference-leading Melbourne Rebels on Saturday that could define their Super Rugby season.
“It’s obviously a distraction, it’s been going on for nearly two weeks now,” Wallabies halfback Phipps said at Waratahs training on Tuesday.
“The fact that there was such a such a huge press conference about it yesterday … it was not too far from our vision every day.”
Phipps praised both Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby for dealing with the situation quickly.
Folau has been given until 2pm on Wednesday to seek a code of conduct hearing for his “high level” breach of the players’ code of conduct or have his four-year, $4 million contract terminated.
The religiously-motivated Folau posted on Instagram: “Warning. Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators. Hell awaits you. Repent! Only Jesus saves.”
“It’s good that there was a united stand between RA and NSW Rugby,” Phipps said.
“It was good that it was nice and swiftly dealt with and it gives us the opportunity to just move forward as quickly as possible and let the process run its course rather than let it drag on for ages.
“It’s probably given all parties a bit of clarity about what’s going to happen and then we can adjust from there.”
Phipps said that, while NSW would miss the special talents of Folau, they had other players who could slot in at fullback.
Gifted utility Kurtley Beale was shortlisted for the World Player of the Year award in 2010 while playing primarily at fullback.
He is likely to switch back to that role for NSW from No.12, leaving the seasoned pair of Karmichael Hunt and Adam Ashley-Cooper to fill the centre positions.
Phipps said Folau had never tried to push his faith onto his teammates.
He said the players had got around Folau’s younger brother John, another outside back, who is in his first season at the Waratahs after switching from rugby league.
“You can go around and have a laugh with him, have a joke, just let him know it’s not awkward, it’s no reflection on him,” Phipps said.
“He’s also a very passionate Christian man and we fully respect that, but for him we just want him to feel comfortable in his place at work.”