Nick Farr-Jones has backed Israel Folau.
Nick Farr-Jones has backed Israel Folau.

Disputed claim at heart of Folau storm

ISRAEL Folau has privately raised doubts about claims from Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle, according to Wallabies legend Nick Farr-Jones.

In the aftermath of Folau's first contentious post in April of last year, where he claimed homosexuals would go to hell unless they repented, Ms Castle emerged from a crisis meeting with the player.

She publicly claimed Folau understood he had caused hurt with his words - and was committed to being more respectful in the future.

Folau, however, reportedly claims he never said he would take a backwards step from sharing his beliefs and his faith.

Farr-Jones yesterday said Folau told him two weeks ago that he had not been told by rugby bosses to "not do this again".

That disputed claim is at the heart of the latest Folau controversy after an independent panel found him guilty of a high-level breach of his playing contract and the players' code of conduct.

In his second controversial post last month, which still has not been deleted, Folau listed "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters" under the heading "Hell awaits you".

Tuesday night's ruling empowers the panel to terminate the star fullback's four-year deal, reportedly worth $4 million, when the hearing continues this week.

 

Israel Folau is not prepared to settle.
Israel Folau is not prepared to settle.

The panel's guilty verdict came as the code suffered through its fourth week of damaging headlines following Folau's recent social media post.

The damage caused by the saga - even with Rugby Australia's big win from the panel's verdict which could save the code from having to pay a cent more of Folau's $4 million deal - has seen the architect of Folau's demise come under fire.

Ms Castle, Rugby Australia's high-profile chief executive, has been criticised from all corners in rugby this week for allowing the saga to drag the battling code through the mud.

Misinformation and breakdowns in communication have emerged as the key reason Folau has shown such determination to fight Rugby Australia's (RA) breach notice.

Despite reportedly being offered a settlement pay out of $1 million - a figure RA has denied - Folau has not taken a backwards step in his legal fight.

Farr-Jones, one of the true legends of Australian rugby, revealed why he believes Folau has such a strong case against RA on Wednesday morning.

The 57-year-old devout Christian says he believes Folau's claim that Castle was wrong about the discipline the former NRL and AFL star received last year surrounding his first social media attack on the homosexual community, which reportedly almost saw Qantas walk away from its multimillion-dollar sponsorship agreement with the code.

Israel Folau has not taken a backwards step.
Israel Folau has not taken a backwards step.

Farr-Jones said he met up with Folau two weeks ago in Adelaide where they spoke for around 90 minutes.

The 1991 World Cup winner says the conversation left him convinced that Rugby Australia has acted underhanded in its attempt to rip up the code-hopper's contract.

"Everyone, including myself, had assumed that he was told by Rugby Australia, whether it was the chief executive Raelene Castle or coach (Michael) Cheika, 'Do not do this again'," Farr-Jones said.

"But from the 90 minutes I had with Israel, and I strongly believe him, he was basically told by Cheika once, not four or five times as the coach would say in his statement. He was basically told do it in a non offensive way. You can continue to communicate like this and communicate your faith, just do it in a respectful way.

"And it was the same with the chief executive. After meetings last year after the first post that seemed to offend everyone, certainly the media, he had a meeting with the chief executive, or at least the chief executive Raelene Castle came out and gave a press statement which greatly offended Israel as to the truth of that press statement."

Folau followed up his first post with a personal column for Players Voice in which he doubled down on his views about sinners going to hell, citing a bible verse from 1 Corinthians: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor the drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God".

Castle was left looking like a fool for claiming Folau was back in line with Rugby Australia's policy of inclusiveness.

She'd also angered Folau for putting words in his mouth, according to Farr-Jones.

"They didn't speak harshly to him last time or put him on notice," Farr-Jones said when asked about Rugby Australia's assertions about how strictly he was reprimanded the first time for the post.

"That is certainly what Israel said to me and I believe him. He basically said that he would not have done that, that he would not deny his faith."

Israel Folau leaves the hearing on Tuesday.
Israel Folau leaves the hearing on Tuesday.

Farr-Jones says Folau would have been angered by Rugby Australia's public comments that he'd agreed to tone down his public comments.

Rugby Australia was simply left in an impossible position.

Desperately negotiating with Folau to re-sign beyond the 2018 season, the code was trying to convince its best player to sign a new contract while also publicly trying to please stakeholders by making a public demonstration of disciplining Folau.

While trying to serve two masters, they ended up pleasing none of them.

It is in this grey area where Folau claims poor communication from Rugby Australia meant he believes he was never officially warned against further intolerant social media posts.

"He believes because of his faith - and this is where non-Christians don't get it - and the bible says many times the bible is foolishness to the non-believer," Farr-Jones said.

"He believes that what he says is done in a loving way and is to the benefit of the non-believer.

"He's saying he was never instructed that way and he does it I promise you in a loving way. "He genuinely wants to see change in people. I know a lot of people don't get it, but that's the white and dark of it."

NSW Waratahs CEO Andrew Hore (left) and Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle couldn’t please everyone.
NSW Waratahs CEO Andrew Hore (left) and Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle couldn’t please everyone.

Rugby Australia has been accused of making two crucial blunders that have brought the code to its knees during the latest Folau saga.

The most significant is the failure to include a personalised social media contract in the long-term deal he signed last year, despite claims of several conversations between the two camps where Rugby Australia voiced its views that Folau must pull his head in on social media.

None of those concerns however, were in the contract, according to reports.

Rugby Australia failed to get Folau to sign off on the social media clause in his playing contract, weakening the governing body's claim that Folau's social media post constitutes a high-level breach of his contract.

Though the absence of a social media clause attracted criticism, Folau was found to be in breach of his contract even without it.

The code has also come under fire from social commentators for marginalising a bulk of its constituents during the marriage equality vote in 2017.

Rugby Australia, like the majority of sporting codes in Australia, took a stand to promote its inclusive policy while supporting the vote to legalise same-sex marriage.

It is claimed many of Australian rugby's Polynesian players were at odds with the decision to support the vote.

Last week Wallabies weapon Taniela Tupou also took to social media to declare RA: "Might as well sack me and all the other Pacific Islands rugby players around the world because we have the same Christian beliefs".

"This is the problem that rugby Australia has created," Miranda Devine told Channel 9's Today.

"They provoked the situation by provoking these Polynesian players by getting involved in the same sex marriage campaign instead of just sitting on the sideline because it had nothing to do with rugby. They chose to take sides and that was clearly a problem for more than half their players."

Raelene Castle has been in the trenches.
Raelene Castle has been in the trenches.

Meanwhile, Castle has proved on several occasions she does not fold under fire.

The top official held her own in the unforgiving political minefield of rugby league while serving as Canterbury's chief executive before her switch to rugby.

Rugby, however, has proven to be every bit the circus that the NRL was during her time with the Bulldogs and she has earned every cent of the $815,255 per-year deal she signed with Rugby Australia.

She was at the helm when Rugby Australia went to war after killing off the Western Force Super Rugby franchise.

She was also the one who refrained from giving coach Michael Cheika the bullet following Rugby Australia's 2018 review into the Wallabies' disastrous season.

Cheika kept his job, but is now forced to answer to Scott Johnson, hired in a newly-created position of oversight.

She won widespread praise when Rugby Australia registered a profit of $5.2 million profit last year on the back of a $3.9 million loss the previous year.

However, the wheels are reportedly close to falling off.

In a World Cup year where less test matches are played on home soil, Rugby Australia is bracing for an $8 million financial deficit this year - which could total a loss of $12 million if Folau is paid out his contract in full.

It has put Castle right back in the hot seat - just as she was when she left the Bulldogs in a state of disrepair two years ago.

Castle, former chairman Ray Dibb and former coach Des Hasler combined to leave the Bulldogs in a salary cap crisis which saw them forced to slash a series of star players, including Aaron Woods and Moses Mbye, while being unable to sign any new talent.

She was accused of mismanagement at the time after it emerged reserve grade forward Greg Eastwood was last season earning $800,000 on a back-ended deal.

The club was also forced to pay out Hasler more than $1 million after an ugly legal dispute when Castle re-signed the coach only for him to be sacked in the same year.

The mud is still sticking to the veteran executive.

The buck always stops at the top and if Folau's case gets messier, as expected, blame is something Castle will have hung around her neck, no matter what.

News Corp Australia

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