Wallabies coach Michael Cheika concedes it’s unfortunate that Israel Folau has been lost to Australian rugby but maintains “team is king”.
It was Cheika who pulled off one of the great coups in prising the code-hopping superstar away from AFL’s GWS Giants and to the NSW Waratahs in 2013.
And it was Cheika who celebrated the Waratahs’ drought-breaking Super Rugby triumph in 2014 with Folau and the bulk of the dual international’s Test victories.
But after admitting in April that it would be difficult to pick Folau again following his controversial social media posts, Cheika broke his silence on the three-times John Eales Medallist’s sacking at a Randwick Rugby Club luncheon in Sydney on Friday.
“It’s pretty easy from my point of view. It’s something I’ve learnt from here,” Cheika told the large gathering of Randwick’s “rugby family”.
“So for all those guys sitting up the end there in their team kit getting ready to play, one thing I’ve learnt here is the team’s king.
“When you come to Randwick, you come to play the Randwick style and you are no bigger (than the team) – and we had some big names in our team and they all did everything for the team.”
Cheika was disappointed the Folau saga dogged the Waratahs’ 2019 campaign and dominated the headlines in an all-important Rugby World Cup year.
“I’ve had a good relationship with Israel for a long time now. The only thing for me is the team has to concentrate on the game,” he said.
“Focus has to be on winning the next game, or the World Cup or the Bledisloe Cup or the things that our fans want, the things that we want.
“And once that focus is not there completely, you have to either make the sacrifices to make that the No.1 focus.
“And that’s it. Nothing to do with content, nothing to do with anything. It’s just about the team is the most important thing and anything that can distract a team from achieving its goals, you have to deal with one way or another.
“Not always this way … it is unfortunate how it ended up but something had to give in that situation.”
Folau has launched legal proceedings with the Fair Work Commission against Rugby Australia and is seeking up to $10 million in damages.