Israel Folau not backing down on opposition to same-sex marriage
Wallabies star Israel Folau is standing firm on his opposition to same-sex marriage despite a wave of criticism following his tweet on the matter last month.
It comes as Folau made the startling claim that he doesn't feel he is playing anywhere near his potential despite scoring 11 tries in eight matches this year and being on track to break the try-scoring world record.
Three weeks ago, before Australia's last match against Argentina in Canberra, Folau created a storm by expressing his opposition to gay marriage on social media.
"I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions," Folau tweeted. "But personally, I will not support gay marriage."
It prompted a national debate, given Folau was the first high-profile athlete to express his support for the "no" vote in one of the most polarising issues in Australian society.
Folau has been reluctant to speak to the media since the tweet. During an interview in Argentina ahead of Australia's clash on Sunday with the Pumas, the Wallabies fullback was asked if he wanted to comment further.
"I'm going to stand firm on what I've already said," Folau replied. "That's what I believe. I guess it doesn't change anything for me and my mindset is still first-hand with what's going on here with the Wallabies. It hasn't really had an effect on me at all, so I stand firm on what I believe in and what I said."
Clearly the circus surrounding Folau in recent weeks has little if any effect on his on-field performances as he closes in on one of world rugby's most prestigious records.
Folau surpassed Lote Tuqiri's Australian mark – which the two jointly held – of 10 tries in a calendar year with his five-pointer off the back of a set-piece in Bloemfontein last weekend.
The Wallabies have six Tests remaining this year and Folau will no doubt have his eyes on the world record of 17 shared by Japanese flyer Daisuke Ohata (2002) and All Blacks winger Joe Rokocoko (2003).
The 28-year-old became the first Australia to score four doubles in a calendar year and has chalked up more tries this year than in 2014, 2015 and 2016 combined.
Despite this – and this will worry other international teams – Folau believes he isn't even close to hitting his straps.
"To be honest, I think a lot of people are talking about how good things are going, but I probably don't feel as good as how things look on the outside, which is always a good thing for me," Folau said.
"I'm trying to push to get a lot better ... and I know that there are certain parts of my game that I was coming off the field and never really satisfied. It's a positive for me to want to get better for the final week.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika agrees.
"He's been playing excellently, [but] I do think he's got room for improvement," Cheika said.
"Over the next year or two you'll see as he gets more mature and gets a bit older, he'll understand how to make the most of his talents and prepare himself exactly right."
Asked whether had more left in the tank, Folau replied: "I feel I can [go up a gear]. I'm not content with how I've been playing the last couple of weeks. Reviewing the game when you come off the field ... you miss a few opportunities. In the game they only come around once or twice and we've got to capitalise on that.
"It's those opportunities that I want to nail in the game. Working towards trying to get those down pat. Otherwise, I'm in a place where I'm really enjoying my rugby and everything is going OK."
Folau has had more success against Argentina than any other Test-playing nation, having scored six tries in nine appearances.
But the humble star of Australian rugby says he doesn't even think about personal milestones.
"I won't be going into the game thinking about breaking records or anything," Folau said.
"It will be the same as any other week. If those opportunities come to score tries, I'll make the most of that. My sole focus is trying to perform to the best I can for the team. It's a great opportunity that arises, but things won't change for me in terms of my mindset."
Asked whether Tuqiri had congratulated him on passing his Australian mark, Folau replied: "Not yet. I'm quite close with Lote, but I'm sure I'll speak to him when I get back home. He's someone I've looked up to growing up. It's a huge honour and a privilege to be able to surpass someone I've really looked up to as a child."
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