Religious saga almost made Folau walk away from rugby
ON the same day he all but confirmed he's staying put in Australian rugby, Wallabies superstar Israel Folau has revealed just how close he came to walking away from the game they play in heaven.
"I base everything around my faith and belief in God, I tend to go wherever he wants me to go," Folau said in Tokyo ahead of the Wallabies' Test against the All Blacks in Bledisloe III and just hours after it emerged that the dual international had agreed to terms for a new four-year deal.
"Whether that was rugby or not, I was always going to feel comfortable and feel that way.
"I believe everything happens for a reason. I would never have thought my journey would go from rugby league to AFL to rugby.
"At some stage, I didn't think I was going to be in the game.
"But those thoughts always chop and change, and in the end you have that peace and comfort inside that brought me to a stage where I feel comfortable in wanting to move forward."
Folau, the first man to ever reach the top in the NRL, AFL and rugby, was embroiled in arguably the most controversial saga in the history of Australian rugby in April.
The lines between right and wrong, never more blurred, as sport, religion, sex and societal ethics and practices were put into question, as Folau, just days after being ruled out for up to a month of action due to a hamstring injury, responded to a Instagram user's question.
That question: "What was gods plan for gay people??"
Folau's response would divide the world, as he, based on his evangelical Christian beliefs, replied: "HELL…Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God."
Over the forthcoming weeks, Rugby Australia went into crisis mode as they, led by new CEO Raelene Castle, attempted to hose down the issue that captured the world's attention, ease sponsors' fears and, at the same time, endeavoured to keep the peace with the then face of Australian rugby and one of their most important players.
The fact that Folau was off contract at the end of the year and was one of Wallabies coach Michael Cheika's most vital figures, particularly with a World Cup on the horizon, brought the tensions to Cuban Missile Crisis levels.
In the end, Rugby Australia didn't sanction Folau for his comments but attempted to make it crystal clear that his beliefs went squarely against their 'Part of More' motto, which seeks to include, not divide the community.
Since then, Folau has regularly continued to post his religious beliefs on social media.
But he has shied away from posting anything inflammatory.
Reflecting on his year, Folau said that while he didn't intend to offend anyone, the issue gave him more clarity and has strengthened his unwavering faith in God.
"It's a bit of a rollercoaster year. For me, more so off the field with what's been happening," Folau said.
"But to be quite honest, it might sound a bit crazy, but I kind of really enjoyed what was happening off the field.
"Not that it happened on purpose, but my identity is based around my faith in God.
"And I truly believe that from deep down inside, what was happening off the field, even though it was challenging and it was hard, it was actually moulding me into the person in becoming stronger and actually taught me a lot of things that I needed to learn, and I'm still learning now.
"Obviously a lot of people will say negative things about what was happening, but it taught me to actually love and forgive them for obviously not agreeing, and that's something that I've learnt to take on."
The veteran of 69 Tests and the only player to be awarded the John Eales Medal three times added that the controversial moment has, in fact, helped him on the playing field.
"Going onto the footy field, probably a lot of people would say that it would affect my rugby, but I've never felt so much peace going onto the field," Folau said.
"Because I know that that's something that is truly myself and I'll never back away from that or step away from that, regardless of who it is.
"That's something that I'll carry for the rest of my life."
He also revealed that he regretted getting tattoos, which go against Biblical teachings.
"To be honest, if I have my time again, I probably wouldn't have got any tattoos and that comes back to, again, my faith," Folau said.
His comments came after being asked whether he had received any feedback from the Japanese community over his tattoos, with World Rugby encouraging players to cover their artwork in the lead up and during next year's World Cup in the Asian nation.
"I love the Japanese culture and the people here, they're amazing and always embracing, and not wanting to hinder that I'm happy to do everything I can - and if that's covering tattoos, I'm happy to do that," Folau said.
In securing Folau for another four years, Rugby Australia boss Castle must be credited for her management in keeping one of Australia's biggest drawcards.
Folau acknowledged the work Castle had done in her first year in the top job.
"I respect who she is, and she's doing a really great job running the game so far," he said.
While the deal to keep Folau in Australia hasn't officially been announced, the 29-year-old said he had informed his agent his intention to stay in the game and at the Waratahs.
He added that the lingering questions over his future in the game weren't a distraction, but he was relieved to have come to a conclusion.
With his future sorted, the only thing Folau will have to worry about is stopping fellow dual international Sonny Bill Williams.
The two-time World Cup winner is expected to be selected at inside centre and Folau will have the task of defending in the front line, with Cheika expected to select him at outside centre for the first time.
"A guy like Sonny Bill and his size and skill set will automatically attract numbers straight away," Folau said.
"You have him and then Barrett at 10.
"It's all about that connection within the midfield for us.
"We need to make sure we are on the same page no matter the decision we make on the field. We need to do it all together and that's something we have to be ready for."
Folau has never played in the No 13 jersey for the Wallabies, but he's played in the role on 16 occasions for the Waratahs.
The Wallabies will name their side to take on the All Blacks for Saturday's final Bledisloe Test in Yokohama on Thursday afternoon.