Folau, according to the Rugby Australia (RA) statement, had proved uncontactable over the last 24 hours, following his decision to post an anti-homosexual message on his Instagram account, as well as a post on Twitter which encouraged people to “turn away from their evil ways and repent” in response to Tasmania making gender optional on birth certificates.
The devil has blinded so many people in this world, REPENT and turn away from your evil ways. Turn to Jesus Christ who will set you free. pic.twitter.com/BWSWTMye98
This is not the first time Folau has been in trouble for his controversial use of social media to condemn homosexuality and despite signing a lucrative four-year contract back in February, RA have acted swiftly, stating that “in the absence of compelling mitigating factors” his contract will be terminated.
This creates quite the dilemma for Michael Cheika, with Folau having locked down the 15 jersey for the Wallabies in 63 of the 73 tests he has played for them since making the move over from rugby league. With the Rugby World Cup fast approaching, this move is going to require Cheika to rethink his back three.
We take a look at four of the top candidates to fill the void that Folau’s potential imminent firing could create.
Haylett-Petty would be the obvious choice, with the versatile back having spent seven tests at full-back in 2018, as Australia experimented with Folau on both the wing and at outside centre. He was impressive in the wins over Argentina and South Africa, but also endured his fair share of struggles, as did the players around him, with the Wallabies producing a poor 2018 in general.
He had a solid start to the season, helping the Rebels to two wins over the Brumbies and a victory at home to the Highlanders, but he has since been injured, with talented youngster Jack Maddocks and another versatile player in Reece Hodge both impressing in his absence. With Haylett-Petty likely to be out of action until at least the beginning of May with ruptured ligaments in his toe, there’s no guarantee he’ll regain the Rebels 15 jersey, let alone push for the Wallaby one.
Reece Hodge, Rebels
It’s a mark of the journey the Rebels are on at the moment that they have two or three genuine contenders for this spot. Hodge has shone at Super Rugby level in the 15 jersey, although his appearances for the Wallabies have so far come in the midfield or on the wing. He was consistent for Australia at 13 during the Rugby Championship last season, dovetailing nicely with the likes of Matt Toomua and Kurtley Beale at 12.
For Cheika to consider him at 15, he would need to be confident about an alternative at outside centre. If Tevita Kuridrani, Karmichael Hunt or Adam Ashley-Cooper can finish the season strongly, that could give Cheika the flexibility to move Hodge to full-back, should he see the Rebel as the best way to round out his back three. Given his form and ability, not to mention his long-range kicking potency, Hodge would seem to be inked into the XV, it’s just a matter of where.
It’s worth giving an honourable mention to Maddocks here, too, with the 22-year-old showing his potential in Melbourne, but with Haylett-Petty and Hodge both more likely to shoulder the responsibilities of the 15 jersey at club level, it seems unlikely that he would be involved with Australia as anything other than a wing at this point.
Tom Banks, Brumbies
Banks is a player who has quietly gone about his business in Canberra, offering impressive consistency and level of play in a side that has diminished over the last few seasons. His work rate and perseverance were rewarded last year when he was involved in the matchday 23 on multiple occasions for the Wallabies.
He’s not the flashy counter-attacker that Folau is, nor does he quite have the kicking ability of versatility of Haylett-Petty or Hodge, but he does the basics of being a full-back very competently. He is solid across the board and could be an appealing option if Cheika decides that he thinks Hodge and Haylett-Petty are at their best at other positions.
Kurtley Beale, Waratahs
The Waratah has plenty of experience at 15 in the green and gold, albeit with most of that coming earlier in his career. It seems unlikely that Cheika would want to move Beale from 12, where he has had plenty of success since moving back to Australia from Wasps in the Gallagher Premiership, but he remains a valid option there.
His chemistry with Hodge could be the biggest factor in keeping both he and Hodge in the midfield, although there will certainly be a temptation to bring the physical carrying of Kuridrani or Samu Kerevi into the mix if possible. By opting for Beale at full-back, Cheika would give himself a 15 with unparalleled ability to link play, and step up as a second receiver or to split the back line at the set-piece, should he desire it.
As said before, Maddocks is on a very impressive trajectory, albeit probably not seen as an international full-back at this point in time. Isaac Lucas is a bright prospect and someone who will be involved with the U20s this season, but he is one to look at for the role in the next cycle, rather than at the RWC. Toomua and Hunt have shown ability at the position also, but seem much more likely to continue roles in the centres, especially with players like Haylett-Petty and Hodge available to fill the position. That said, Hunt could find himself with a glut of playing time at 15 for the Waratahs now, should RA carry through their threat and fire Folau.
Watch: Folau’s views again court controversy
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