Wallabies coach Michael Cheika is standing by Israel Folau, refusing to take issue with his match-winning fullback’s provocative online posts about homosexuality.
Speaking for the first time since Folau sparked a storm of controversy six weeks ago with the first of a series of divisive posts about gays, Cheika said anyone who disagreed with his religious beliefs – including homosexuals – should ignore them.
The code-hopping superstar has suffered widespread backlash for publicising his extreme views, with the Wallabies’ major sponsor Qantas outraged and others including All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara pointing out Folau’s profound influence on vulnerable youngsters.
Cheika, though, refused to be critical of the devout Christian when asked what would be his message to Folau if he was “a young gay rugby boy who’s ever read Izzy’s posts and wondering if he’d ever belong in rugby or in life”.
“There’s been a lot made of [this],” Cheika said on Fox Sports’ Kick and Chase program.
“Self-esteem in people, no matter who they are, is extremely important – self belief, self esteem – and if that’s something that you don’t agree with, then you detach from that.
“That way it’ll be, ‘he’s no longer my idol’ if that’s the case, if that affects [me] like that.”
Cheika said the onus was also on parents to shield their children from potentially harmful posts, as they did from other teenage dangers.
“You’ve got to protect those kids from everything that’s out there,” he said. “There’s other things out there that you might not like and that’s what it is.
“Us as parents, which I am, and as coaches, which I try to do with the lads (we have to protect them) because it happens all round.
“… players are getting the same in return: nasty messages [on] social media.
“It’s about trying to build that self belief in them so they’re not affected by those things because we don’t want people to be affected by stuff like that. That is 100 per cent clear.”
Meanwhile, Cheika admitted he had no plans to shift Folau to the wing for the Wallabies this year, despite the NSW Waratahs using the dual international’s aerial skills with deadly effect on the flank in some games this season.
“Fullback for me. He’s too invaluable around defusing high balls,” the coach said.
“You saw what he did on the weekend. If you want to get him on the edge to play kick ball to him, you can manufacture that to him, just like the Tahs did in that game when he was on edge.
“He was devastating in that space.”