As news out of Sydney on Tuesday confirmed that Israel Folau has lost his code of conduct hearing with Rugby Australia, the already-slim chances of the 30-year-old ever playing rugby union at a first-class level continued to diminish.
There have been suggestions that Folau will appeal the decision and take the case to High Court, but regardless of what ensues from here on out, it appears there is next to no chance that he will ever ply his trade for the Waratahs or Wallabies again.
Having been absent from his Super Rugby side for the past five weeks, the Waratahs are beginning to feel the pinch of not being able to call on the services of their star fullback.
A win against the Rebels in their first match since the saga erupted three weeks ago looked to be an emphatic statement, as both sides seemed to be the most likely candidates to run away as winners of the increasingly-competitive Australian conference.
However, consecutive losses in disappointing fashion to the Sharks in Sydney and then the Bulls in Pretoria has left the New South Wales club fourth in their conference, and 12th on the overall standings.
Although they remain in touching distance of both the top of the Australian conference and a top-eight position, their reputable standing as playoff contenders seems to have deteriorated rapidly over the last few weeks.
Not only has the drama that Folau has created become a distraction for his teammates and coaches, but being ineligible for selection has hindered the Waratahs’ on-field performances as they can no longer rely on the pace, power, athleticism and aerial ability that he provided them with.
No other player in their squad ticks all those boxes quite as affirmatively as Folau does, and it’s beginning to show as he spends more time in court rooms than on the playing field.
It’s not just the Waratahs that should be concerned about his absence.
The Wallabies also don’t have anyone within their ranks that can soar into the sky to pluck out a high ball or pierce through opposition defences as freakishly as Folau can.
To say he’s been an integral member of the national set-up could be regarded an understatement considering he’s missed just 10 test matches since his debut against the British and Irish Lions in 2013.
That’s not to say that the 73-test veteran has made the Wallabies a successful team during his time in the squad, though.
In the tests he’s played in, the Australian national side has won just 33 times, giving them a win rate of only 45.21 percent.
It’s a win percentage that has resulted in a lack of significant silverware flowing through the trophy cabinet at Rugby Australia headquarters.
During Folau’s six-season stay in international rugby, the Wallabies claimed the Rugby Championship just once from six attempts, lost the British and Irish Lions series that Folau debuted in, still haven’t won the Bledisloe Cup back from the All Blacks after losing it in 2003, and fell short in the World Cup final four years ago.
Furthermore, England have left them without the Cook Cup since 2012, they’ve lost the Lansdowne Cup to Ireland two of the three times it’s been contested for since Folau’s been involved, and Scotland have won two of the last four Hopetoun Cup clashes, with both of those defeats coming embarrassingly for the Wallabies in 2017.
And while they have been successful in securing the Mandela Challenge Plate against South Africa over the past four years, won two of the last three Trophée des Bicentenaires against France since 2014, and retained the James Bevan Trophy four of the last five times against Wales, all these accolades pale in significance to the main four titles – World Cup, Lions series, Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship – they would have targeted and mostly failed to win.
Without the might of Folau on their side, Australia’s quest to lay claim to those main trophies are only going to become more difficult.
Their first assignments this year are the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup before the World Cup follows on just over a month later.
The likelihood of Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper lifting aloft any one of those trophies were skint enough before the Folau drama unfolded, but now you can almost certainly rule out the chances of that happening.
And that’s fair enough; Rugby Australia made the right decision from a moral, ethical and contractual standpoint to make Folau ineligible because of his actions, but there can be no denying that, from a rugby perspective at least, there will be big implications to follow from that.
The Waratahs are already beginning to feel the bite of being Folau-less, and it’s only going to be a matter of time before the Wallabies have to deal with that same burden.
The Short Ball:
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