Israel Folau fumes after the ARU clip his wings

IAN RANSOM
Last updated 00:30 13/04/2014
Israel Folau
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SITTING OUT: After being declared fit to return for the Waratahs, the ARU have withdrawn Israel Folau on medical specialist advice.

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Israel Folau was left a "frustrated" spectator during the New South Wales Waratahs' 28-16 defeat by Western Force on Saturday after the Australian Rugby Union controversially pulled the fullback from the Super Rugby match out of fears for his safety.

Having missed two games with a throat injury, the 15-cap Wallaby had been reinstated into Michael Cheika's side for the Perth clash after being cleared to play by the Waratahs' team doctor and a specialist.

The ARU's chief medical officer Warren McDonald sought a second opinion, however, and overruled his selection late on Friday, leaving Cheika to break the bad news to his charge and re-jig his gameplan on the eve of the match.

Folau said he had had no contact with the ARU "the whole week", even as he trained in full-contact sessions with the Waratahs.

"Obviously I'm very disappointed and frustrated at this stage but the ARU have made a decision and I'm not happy with it," Folau told host broadcaster Fox Sports before the match.

"The whole situation, I'm very confused with at this stage.

"I think I know how I feel as a person, how my body operates and just going by what the specialists have said this week, I'm very confident in myself that I can go out and play."

McDonald said in a statement the ARU would continue to work on a "plan" to get Folau back as soon as possible, but the 25-year-old was left with no idea when that might be.

"After seeing the different specialists that I've seen, there's no timeline for the throat," said Folau, who had scored eight tries in four Super Rugby matches prior to his injury.

"Who knows? It might be six months or whatever ... I just don't know. Just the advice that the specialists have said to me, this could be an injury that could take that long. If you want to make it 100 percent, I'm just saying it could take that long."

The ARU's determination to wrap Folau in cotton wool underlines his status as Australian rugby's most prized asset, as both a proven match-winner at international level and pin-up boy for a football code struggling for relevance in the country's saturated sports market.

That resolve may be tested by the Wallabies' upcoming three-test series against France in June, however.

The move was slammed by Cheika and met a scornful reaction on social media.

"If the QantasWallabies were playing the AllBlacks this weekend, would the medical staff still have rested IzzyFolau??" former Wallabies winger Drew Mitchell, now playing for French club Toulon, posted on Twitter, referring to Australia's arch-rivals New Zealand.

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Cheika told Reuters the ARU had breached protocols by conducting their own medical analysis without notifying the Waratahs in advance and bristled at the suggestion his team had been prepared to risk the player's safety.

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"When every rugby player runs out on to the field there's a risk," the 47-year-old said in a phone interview from Perth.

"The reality is that we felt, and we do still feel, that we did everything correctly.

"I'm disappointed that there isn't faith in the way we do things."

Cheika said the ARU had contacted a specialist earlier in the week without the team's knowledge but sat back as Folau participated in full training sessions on Tuesday and Thursday.

"Sometimes, for a guy in his position, full contact is more regular in training than you will have in a game," he added.

"I don't think (this) has ever happened, full-stop. I certainly haven't seen it before."

The controversial decision robbed the Waratahs of their most dangerous attacking player for a tough away match against a team riding a four-game winning streak.

Cheika, who coached Irish club Leinster to their maiden Heineken Cup triumph in 2009, said Folau's fate was now out of the Waratahs' hands.

"There's nothing for us to do now," he said. "If we felt he's fit to play this week, then he's fit to play next week. The ball's well and truly in their court now. They're taken charge of it, so there's nothing we can do really."

- Reuters

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