Wales’ Rugby World Cup opponents Australia are in disarray over the Israel Folau controversy.
Rugby Australia announced Folau’s four-year deal, only signed last October, was being terminated, barring ‘compelling mitigating factors’, after his latest anti-gay comments.
Folau is a world-class player and it remains to be seen how his team-mates react to the news if his impending sacking.
Meanwhile, there remains confusion over Michael Cheika’s future and another top player could miss the tournament through injury.
With the start of the World Cup a little over five months away and a seismic pool clash with Warren Gatland’s Grand Slam champions coming on September 29, we look at what state the Wallabies will be in heading to the Tokyo Stadium.
WHAT THE FOLAU FURORE IS ABOUT
The Wallabies superstar published a message on his Instagram account on Wednesday saying that hell awaits “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators”.
The incident is the second in the space of a year to involve homophobic comments and Folau, after he posted a comment on the same social media platform last April that God’s plan for homosexuals is “HELL. Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.”
Former Wales captain Gareth Thomas and English rugby star Joe Marler publicly responded to Israel Folau after the Australian left rugby fans disgusted with his latest social media comments.
A little less reserved in his condemnation of Folau was Northampton and England flanker James Haskell, who wrote on Twitter: “This is the biggest load of s**t I have ever read.
“Sport has no place for this crap. Keep it to hate groups Izzy Folau, you are not spreading the lord’s word.
“You are spreading hate. You are an unreal player, but a f**king misinformed bigot.”
WHAT RUGBY AUSTRALIA SAID
“We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts.
“In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.”
THE WALLABIES TEAM-MATES WHO LIKED HIS POST
It emerged Test team-mates Samu Kerevi and Allan Alaalatoa were among the 14,500 people to have liked Folau’s post.
There is no suggestion Kerevi and Alaalatoa are condoning the contents of the message, which has received condemnation from all walks of life.
WHO WILL PLAY 15 v WALES
Folau would have been one of the first names on the teamsheet to play Wales in Tokyo, such is the magnitude of the pool clash.
Win it and you have the chance to avoid England and New Zealand in the quarter and semi-final stages with far more appealing games against the likes of France, Argentina, Ireland and South Africa in the knockout phase.
Unlike Wales, whose full-back department is well-stocked, Australia’s resources in the No.15 jersey is a little less so with Dane Haylett-Petty the only other viable alternative.
Kurtley Beale is a possible option but the 83-times capped 30-year-old has been used primarily as a centre last year and filling in the No.10 jersey in the absence of Bernard Foley.
THE OTHER TOP WALLABY WHO COULD MISS WORLD CUP
Back-row titan David Pocock was due to make his comeback in Super Rugby this weekend from a month on the sidelines with a calf injury.
But his comeback has been pushed further back and there are genuine concerns he too could miss out on Japan… but not because of his leg problem.
The 77-times capped 30-year-old remains under a fitness cloud over an ongoing battle to beat a career-threatening neck injury.
Social media will tell you Pocock has been working hard in the gym rehabilitating his calf and strengthening his neck but doubts remain over the latter and Pocock’s ability to come through Test rugby cleanouts unscathed.
THE CHEIKA CONFUSION
After winning just four of 13 Tests last season, the Wallabies are already under the pump to at least repeat their exploits from the 2015 Rugby World Cup when losing to the All Blacks in the final.
Their shambolic 2018 form prompted Rugby Australian bosses to draft in Wales’ 2005 Grand Slam assistant coach Scott Johnson from Scotland to work as a director of rugby.
Cheika’s job has been under constant scrutiny this year with Wales boss Warren Gatland, England rival Eddie Jones and Glasgow Warriors chief Dave Rennie among the names linked to the role.
Cheika himself is said to be a target for Gallagher Premiership strugglers Leicester Tigers but it seems for now he will be going to Japan – even though Folau and Pocock may not.
CAN WALES BEAT THEM?
You have to say an emphatic yes given how Wales’ star is on the rise following their 14-game unbeaten run with a Six Nations Grand Slam thrown in for good measure.
The Wallabies have a history of coming good in a Rugby World Cup year as their against-all-odds pool victory over Wales in 2015 when down to 13 men for seven minutes would testify.
Warren Gatland’s side have got that Wallaby off their back when ending a 13-match losing streak to the Aussies with a tight 9-6 win in Cardiff last November.
The absence of Folau and possible non-appearance of Pocock would only strengthen their belief is making a far more navigable route through the knockout stages in the autumn.
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