Opinion: Now for the fallout of this sorry Folau saga

5:44 pm on 8 May 2019

Opinion - It's at this point in time that you almost want to start feeling sorry for Israel Folau again.

Israel Folau

Israel Folau. Photo: Photosport

Like most predicted, he is set to have his contract terminated by Rugby Australia after their hearing found him guilty of one of the most serious breaches of their code of conduct.

Sorry because it's obvious that Folau is clearly getting some really bad advice.

Sorry because his naivety and belief that everyone would come around to his way of thinking is probably going to cost him his incredibly entertaining sporting career.

Sorry because his name will forever be associated with a saga that may well cause irreversible damage to rugby union in Australia.

Therein lies the most baffling part of all - no matter what Folau's intentions were, it's hard to imagine it was ever going to convince anyone on the other side of the argument to change their minds. Worse still, it was never going to do anything other than embolden those who agreed with him.

There will likely be an appeal, probably to the Australian High Court, which will take a long time to resolve. As in, potentially years.

So what, you might ask?

Well, here's the bit where the flow on effects of what Folau did will start to be seen. Rugby in Australia is already in enough trouble as it is without a controversy involving an outspoken player.

It's currently a long way behind the AFL and NRL in the fierce battle for public perception in the Australian market, which they're now only officially fighting on the eastern seaboard given that they gave the Western Force the boot two seasons ago.

Crowds are down, so much so that what should have been a nostalgic and celebrated move by the Waratahs to temporarily play their games at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground has turned into an embarrassing sea of empty seats.

The Waratahs then moved into the shiny new Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta, which should've been enough of an event in itself to entice people to come and watch, but even that barely gave the turnstiles a workout.

Things aren't much better north of the border in Queensland, where the Reds' home game crowds only seem to consist of people who have just arrived in Brisbane and have no idea how disappointing that team has been for the last eight years.

The only bright spot this year really has been the Rebels, but on closer inspection their competition record wouldn't even put them in fourth place in the NZ Conference.

The Wallabies haven't won the World Cup since last century and the All Blacks have held the Bledisloe Cup since 2003.

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle in a news conference after Israel Folau's anti-gay comments in April last year.

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle has a task on her hands getting the game back on track across the ditch. Photo: AFP

Rugby right now has very little leverage when it comes to getting people through the gate, which is why the situation that Folau has made is like a boat that's coming last in a race suddenly snapping its mast.

While it's terrible for the Australians, it's not exactly good news over this side of the ditch either.

The All Blacks, whether you like it or not, benefit from having a strong presence to play three times a year.

People aren't going to pack out Eden Park for much longer for tests that the All Blacks routinely win by 30+ points, and that more than anything will be of a concern to NZ Rugby.

But now, at least, the Wallabies can start to rebuild without Folau. At the start of the year, he would've featured high in Michael Cheika's plans, but they at least have a decent fall back option in Dane Haylett-Petty.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.

Israel Folau's comments have created consequences for Wallabies coach Michael Cheika. Photo: Photosport

And what now for Folau himself?

Other than hanging out with his lawyer, there aren't exactly a tonne of options available for the soon-to-be unemployed cross-code star.

The NRL have already said he's not welcome back and it's unlikely he would've got another shot in the AFL anyway.

Toulon boss Mourad Boudjelall, who many conspiracy theorists presumed had orchestrated the entire thing to get Folau out of his contract and over to France, smashed those rumours by calling Folau a 'moron'.

A UK contract would probably be out of the question, given they wouldn't want the hassle that would come with him.

There is a possibility that he could disappear away to the lucrative Top League, however being an outspoken advocate for your personal beliefs isn't exactly a trait that is embraced by Japanese culture.

We'll probably have a better idea of the enormity of just what Folau has done in about a year's time. It'll be then when Rugby Australia can look back and figure out how many potential fans were lost because of it.

For them, that's the most sorry part of it all.

*Frustration at his own shortcomings as a rugby player and multiple concussions have left Jamie with an innate ability to find fault with rules, players, matches and sporting bodies alike.

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