Rugby Australia said on Tuesday it would not sanction Israel Folau for his comments on homosexuality posted on social media as the Wallabies superstar revealed he was willing to walk away from the sport over his religious beliefs.
The decision came after Folau defended the post late on Monday on www.playersvoice.com.au, a website for sportspeople to air their views, saying he had written them “honestly and from the heart”.
“Rugby Australia will not sanction Israel Folau for his comment posted on a social media platform on April 4,” said a statement from the sport’s governing body.
“Anyone who knows me knows I am not the type to upset people intentionally,” the 29-year-old wrote, adding that suggestions he was bigoted “could not be further from the truth”.
Folau also hit out at Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle for her comments about him after he was summoned to a meeting with the governing body, which has an inclusion policy to stop discrimination, over his remarks.
Castle had said the star had agreed to “think about” the impact of his posts and had acknowledged his comments could have been made “in a more respectful way”.
“I felt Raelene misrepresented my position and my comments, and did so to appease other people, which is an issue I need to discuss with her and others at Rugby Australia,” he wrote.
Despite Folau’s criticism of Castle, the rugby chief said Tuesday that “we accept Israel’s position” and that the playersvoice post “provided context behind his social media comment”.
Folau also revealed he told Castle he was ready to walk away from his contract immediately “if she felt the situation had become untenable – that I was hurting Rugby Australia, its sponsors and the Australian rugby community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through”.
The offer to break the contract, which finishes this year, was not in order that he could return to rugby league, Folau added, amid speculation that several National Rugby League (NRL) clubs were interested in signing him.
“At no stage over the past two weeks have I wanted that to happen,” he added.
“This is not about money or bargaining power or contracts. It’s about what I believe in and never compromising that, because my faith is far more important to me than my career and always will be.”
Rugby Australia have been trying to balance their desire to re-sign Folau with the demands of leading sponsors including national airline Qantas, who made it clear to the governing body that it was not happy with Folau’s posting.
New South Wales Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said he wanted his player to stay in the code, adding that he knew discussions were continuing between Rugby Australia and Folau.
“We want Israel to stay in rugby, he enjoys the game and so our immediate concern is making sure he stays in rugby,” Gibson told reporters on Tuesday. “There hasn’t been a timeframe put on those discussions.”
They may have only just completed their debut season as a fully-fledged club, but Dubai Eagles are already dreaming of creating a legacy for future generations, having just returned from a charity trip to Sri Lanka.
As most teams and players were settling down to enjoy some much-needed rest and relaxation after a punishing campaign, a group of Eagles players were taking flight to donate kit and equipment to a school on the west coast of the island, off the south coast of India.
A group of 10 players went altogether for the three-day trip, where they visited pupils at Mahanama College in Panadura, 27km south of the capital Colombo.
Eagles’ Irish fly-half and director of rugby, Sean Carey, said it was a brilliant experience.
“We got in touch with the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union and we asked them to put us in touch with a team close to the UAE, in the south west, somewhere that was affected by the tsunami,” said Carey.
More than 30,000 Sri Lankans were killed on Boxing Day in 2004 when, as a result of an Indian Ocean earthquake, the island was hit by a devastating tsunami, with around 1.5 million more people displaced from their homes.
“They put us in touch with Mahanama College College in Panadura. We landed in the airport and they had a bus waiting for us. We went straight to the school and they were having an assembly. We planned a day of coaching and just talked to the kids.
“We had the first season for the Eagles and we had some kit that was left over. We bought more than we should have so there was quite a lot of stuff.
“We had a lot hanging around downstairs in the store rooms too, around 70 jerseys, 25 balls and other rugby equipment.
“We met with the principal, they even fed us. It was a pretty cool experience. We’d hope to go back there maybe once a year. It’s a big thing of what we want to do as a club.”
Although they mixed business with pleasure, spending their final two days at the beach, the 3,348km trip is something Eagles are determined to follow up on.
The club plans to head back to Mahanama College next season as well as visiting more schools in other Asian countries.
Carey – who formed part of the Ireland squad that played at the Under-19 World Championship when it was staged in Dubai and Sharjah in 2006 – represented the UAE at the Asia Rugby Championship in Malaysia last year.
Twelve years ago the 30-year-old was part of an Irish side containing future British & Irish Lions Cian Healy and Keith Earls that finished fifth in the UAE. And having enjoyed a fairly high-profile career, Carey said he was inspired to give something back after being part of the Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors side that toured Madagascar in 2016.
“I’d done the Mike Ballard thing before, the Conquistadors, so that was in the back of my head when we started Eagles last summer, that we’d do something along those lines, like a tour, and link up with some people in need of help, kit and rugby equipment,” said Carey of the organisation set up by former Abu Dhabi Harlequins player Ballard.
“I wanted to take what Mike has done and do a bit more of it. Me and Conor (Coakley, Eagles captain) had been in Madagascar and got the idea from Mike.
“There’s loads of rugby-mad areas in Asia that need equipment and we wanted to do more in other countries. It’s something we’d like to have as part of our legacy.
“We have other destinations and we’d like to do something like this twice a year. But we want to build something and go to those places again rather than just drop stuff and leave.
“It’s a big part of what we want to do at Eagles. Because we are so lucky here, and have so much in Dubai, so we want to give something back.”
Toulon’s English international winger Chris Ashton set a Top 14 record on Saturday when he scored his 22nd try of the season as the three-time European champions stunned leaders Montpellier 32-17.
The 31-year-old Ashton touched down in the seventh minute in Marseille after a pass from former All Black centre Ma’a Nonu, completing a move started by Facundo Isa and Semi Radradra.
For the last three weeks, Ashton, who left Saracens for France last summer, had been tied with Fijian Napolioni Nalaga, who scored 21 tries for Clermont in 2008-2009.
Toulon scored all of their four tries in the first half with Radrada, skipper Mathieu Bastareaud and Isa adding to Ashton’s opener.
Montpellier would have wrapped up a semi-final place with victory but Vern Cotter’s side had to settle for a second half rally with Gabriel Ngandebe and Kelian Galletier adding to centre Vincent Martin’s 34th minute score.
Toulon, coached by former Montpellier boss Fabien Galthie, stayed comfortably on course for the play-offs with just two matches left in the regular season.
Victory came at a cost, however, with influential fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc forced off after just 11 minutes with a shoulder injury after being crunched by Montpellier prop Davit Kubriashvili who earned a yellow card for his troubles.
French international skipper Guilhem Guirado was then forced off after just 20 minutes with knee ligament damage.