Israel Folau supporters abused and threatened Michael Cheika, the Wallabies coach has revealed ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
- Israel Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia in May
- Michael Cheika said he was threatened by supporters in the aftermath of the decision
- The Wallabies start their World Cup campaign on September 21 against Fiji
The 62-time capped Wallaby star has appealed the decision and the case will go to court in February, should further mediation fail in December.
The case sparked fierce debate around religious freedom of expression and, in the week before the Rugby World Cup getting underway in Japan, Cheika revealed that he had been victim of Folau’s supporters’ wrath.
“People were saying all sorts of stuff,” Cheika told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Just threats I was getting — people on the street, some to my face, a couple at some games. It was just crazy stuff.”
Despite the threats and tumult over the decision, Cheika told the paper that he still backed Folau’s right to have his own beliefs.
“I’m not disappointed in the individual because if that’s what he believes, and that’s where his passion is, I will never tell someone to hide it,” Cheika said.
“I might not agree with everyone, but I’d never want someone to not say what they feel. I’m no person to judge.”
With the decision made to sack Folau just five months out of the Rugby World Cup, Cheika was put on the back foot in terms of team selection.
The Wallabies coach said that despite Folau being one of the Wallabies’ — if not the world’s — best players, he had to do what was right for the team.
“The disappointing part is that we lost one of our best players — a guy who I helped come back,” Cheika said, referencing the warning Folau received for a similar social media post one year before, before signing a new, improved contract with Rugby Australia.
“I wouldn’t say I’m responsible for what’s happened. It’s just life. But I had to do what was needed for the team.”
After the decision to sack Folau was made public, reports emerged saying that there was a divide in the dressing room, with prop Taniela Tupou — one of 14 players in the Wallabies World Cup squad with a Polynesian background — saying: “Seriously … Might as well sack me and all the other Pacific Islands rugby players around the world because we have the same Christian beliefs.”
Cheika played down that split, saying the reports were “so untrue”.
“Of course, we had to address it,” Cheika said.
“We spoke about it in small groups, then one on one, and then in the team environment together, so everyone was clear on what was going on.
“Then we got on with business, which is representing Australia in footy. That’s what we’re here to do.”
Australia plays its first match at the Rugby World Cup against Fiji in Sapporo on Saturday, September 21.