ARU risking losing Israel Folau over throat farce
The fallout over the Australian Rugby Union's decision to withdraw Israel Folau from a Super Rugby match at the weekend continued today with some suggesting the Wallabies fullback could turn his back on the code because of it.
Folau, who has scored 26 tries in 33 matches since his switch from Australian Rules, was named in New South Wales Waratahs team to play Western Force on Saturday, only for the ARU to withdraw him on the eve of the match.
The ARU cited concerns over the throat injury that had forced him to miss the Waratahs' previous two matches, but the player and his coach Michael Cheika were furious about the decision and how it was made.
Folau, who is as a rule fairly mild-mannered, accepted that the ARU were acting in what they thought were his interests but vented his anger over the fact nobody spoke to him about it before the decision was announced on television.
As respected veteran rugby commentator Greg Growden wrote in his column on Monday, ordinarily the ARU can expect players not to rock the boat for fear of losing the lucrative "top-up" contracts which are paid by the governing body.
NO ORDINARY PLAYER
Folau is not an ordinary player, however, being by far the best-known rugby player in Australia courtesy of his stellar career in the more popular National Rugby League and a less successful but equally high-profile spell in Australian Rules.
The 25-year-old has options and he knows it.
As has been pointed out many times, the headquarters of the Waratahs at Sydney Football Stadium is just a few doors down from glamour rugby league side Sydney Roosters, who lured Sonny Bill Williams back to the 13-man code last year.
"The only person connected to the Australian Rugby Union with reputation intact is the player himself," Growden wrote for ESPN.
"The phrase 'connected to the Australian Rugby Union' may also soon be wrong as Folau has every right to depart its ranks considering how shoddy the national body has treated him."
It would be the height of irony if the ARU's actions to try to protect their considerable financial investment in Folau only contributed to him walking away before his two-year contract expires at the end of the 2015.
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie backed the decision on Saturday and the ARU's chief medical officer Warren McDonald stood by it on yesterday.
"The decision-making process takes into account all factors around an injury, including the risk of re-injury, further serious complications and permanent damage," he said.
"We continue to be comfortable with our decision, which was centred on player welfare."
McDonald said a decision on whether Folau would be available for the match against South Africa's Bulls in Sydney on Saturday would be made after further consultation with specialists this week.
Despite the row, ARU chief Bill Pulver said Folau would only be given the green light to play when the risk of permanent damage was at an acceptable level.
"Coaches and players are not qualified to make medical decisions despite their eagerness to play," he said on yesterday.
"We're keen to see Israel return to play as soon as possible once our medical team is satisfied that the risk to him has subsided."