Supporters of embattled rugby union star Israel Folau levelled abuse and threats at Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, it has been revealed.
Folau was sacked for breaching his employers’ code of conduct in April when he shared a controversial Instagram post that was deemed homophobic.
The devoted “born again” Christian shared an image on the social media platform proclaiming hell awaits “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters”.
Rugby Australia believed the post breached their code of conduct and dumped him. Cheika has revealed he copped a lot of the backlash.
In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald ahead of the World Cup, Cheika said Folau fans had personally threatened him at matches.
“People were saying all sorts of stuff,” Cheika told the newspaper.
“Just threats I was getting — people on the street, some to my face, a couple at some games. It was just crazy stuff.”
Speaking about the downfall of Folau, the coach said he was disappointed to lose “one of our best players” and a “guy who I helped come back”.
“I wouldn’t say I’m responsible for what’s happened,” Cheika said.
“It’s just life. But I had to do what was needed for the team.”
Folau has launched a bitter legal fight, claiming he was unfairly dismissed and mediation has so far proven unsuccessful.
Cheika played an integral role in easing tensions between Rugby Australia and Folau in 2018 when he first aired his controversial views about homosexuals.
He was asked on Instagram by a fan about what fate awaited gay people and Folau responded that it was “hell” unless they “repent”. He was subsequently signed on a new four-year deal worth almost $6 million.
But when he waded into hot water again this year, Cheika told the SMH he had no choice but to act because “the team is king”.
He also told the newspaper that claims of a split in the team in the wake of Folau’s sacking were unfounded.
“There was an inference of some type of split — that’s so untrue,” he said.
“But (that) was the opposite of the truth. And that’s the fundamental thing about great teams — they trust each other, they’re united when it’s really tough. And I think it’s shown to be a total untruth with the way this team has played this season. It’s been disproved by the spirit and team camaraderie that’s been shown.”
Rugby Australia and Folau are likely to clash at a trial in February next year if another court-directed mediation hearing fails in December.
Folau is seeking $10 million in damages and wants his contract to be reinstated.
Tens of thousands of people donated more than $2 million to a fund established by the Australian Christian Lobby to fund Folau’s legal action.