TOKYO – Wallabies star Israel Folau has revealed he “really enjoyed” the controversy over anti-gay remarks he made earlier this year that briefly cast doubt on his future in the sport.
The deeply religious Folau caused uproar when he said on social media in April that God’s plan for gay people was hell unless they repented their sins.
Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle grilled him on the issue and the organisation distanced itself from his views, prompting speculation Folau might return to rugby league, where he played from 2007-2010.
However, with his future as a Wallaby reportedly sealed after signing a lucrative deal through to 2022, Folau spoke at length ahead of Australia’s Test against New Zealand in Yokohama this weekend about the “rollercoaster” he had experienced.
“To be quite honest, it might sound a bit crazy, I kind of really enjoyed what was happening off the field,” he said in comments reported by rugby.com.au
“Not that it happened on purpose, but my identity is based around my faith in God... it was actually moulding me into becoming stronger and taught me a lot of things that I needed to learn, and I’m still learning now.”
Folau said his views on gay marriage had not changed, but he had now learned to “love and forgive” those who did not agree with him.
Several players condemned Folau’s comments at the time, including teammate David Pocock and All Black TJ Perenara, who he will face on Saturday.
“I totally understand everyone else’s view,” he said. “They are obviously different to mine and I respect that. It doesn’t change how I look at that person.
“What I don’t want to do is compromise what I believe in. Being true to my faith in God, I’m always going to follow that.”
Folau will make his first start as centre on Saturday as Wallabies coach Michael Cheika opted to experiment in the third Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand.
Folau, already switched from fullback to wing this season, will partner Kurtley Beale in midfield with Bernard Foley remaining at flyhalf.
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Sefa Naivalu comes in on the right wing and Rob Simmons replaces Adam Coleman in the locks, while Allan Alaalatoa starts ahead of Taniela Tupou in the front row.
“I’m confident in having to defend there upfront. It’s all about the connections with guys inside and outside of you,” Folau said.
“So, if we’re on the same page there, I’m very comfortable in reading and staying connected with the guys inside and outside of me.”
Dane Haylett-Petty, Sefa Naivalu, Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale, Marika Koroibete, Bernard Foley, Will Genia, David Pocock, Michael Hooper (captain), Ned Hanigan, Rob Simmons, Izack Rodda, Allan Alaalatoa, Folau Faingaa, Scott Sio.
Bench: Tolu Latu, Sekope Kepu, Taniela Tupou, Rory Arnold, Jack Dempsey, Pete Samu, Nick Phipps, Samu Kerevi, Tom Banks.