SYDNEY – Controversy over rugby superstar Israel Folau's homophobic comments is reportedly threatening to divide Wallabies players ahead of the World Cup, with some unwilling to play with the controversial fullback and others feeling their religion is under attack.
Rugby Australia wants to sack the devoutly Christian Folau over a social media post that said "hell awaits" gay people and the matter will be heard at a code of conduct hearing on Saturday.
But the Australian newspaper reported that if Folau wins the case -- saving his multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract -- a number of Wallabies could "make themselves unavailable" to play with him.
It did not say how many were considering a boycott but pointed to a string of comments critical of Folau by senior players and management.
Just last week, Wallabies director of rugby Scott Johnson backed Rugby Australia's move to axe Folau, saying "we want a game that includes everyone".
Rugby Australia feels it has no choice but to act after Folau escaped sanction last year after sparking outrage with another anti-gay social media post.
Further complicating the situation is anger among some players from Pacific Islander backgrounds that the Folau case has led to their religious beliefs being targeted.
Centre Samu Kerevi faced online criticism after posting a Christian message over Easter, with prop Taniela Tupou rushing to his defence.
"Might as well sack me and all the other Pacific Islands rugby players around the world because we have the same Christian beliefs," he said in a Facebook post that has since been deleted.
"I will never apologise for my faith and what I believe in, religion (has) got nothing to do with rugby anyway."
A split among his players is the last thing Wallabies coach Michael Cheika wants as he looks to build momentum for this year's Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Cheika has vowed not to select Folau for the tournament because of his "disrespectful" comments.
Australia, finalists in 2015, are currently ranked sixth in the world.AFP