'The Japanese people will embrace him': Folau backed by new coach
Israel Folau’s new head coach Rob Penney has no concerns about how the controversial ex-Wallabies star will be received by the Japanese public after signing a deal with Top League club NTT Communications Shining Arcs.
The announcement marks Folau’s return to rugby union two years after he was sacked by Rugby Australia [RA] for making anti-gay posts on social media.
The 32-year-old’s dismissal from RA was one of the highest-profile and messiest exits from rugby union in the history of the game as Folau filed a lawsuit against the union, claiming his contract was unlawfully terminated on the basis of religion.
Folau and RA eventually reached a confidential settlement in December 2019, but the saga has made the dual-code international one of the most divisive figures in both rugby union and rugby league.
However, that hasn’t stopped Penney, who returns to NTT Communications as the club’s director of rugby after being sacked as Waratahs head coach in March, from endorsing Folau ahead of his arrival in Japan.
“Teams are really keen to promote the game up here and obviously Izzy’s profile is extremely high,” Penney told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“He’s a world-class player, still got a bit of petrol in the tank and he’ll make a massive contribution up there. The Japanese people will really embrace him for his sporting prowess.”
It has been reported that Folau is under no uncertain terms in his contract that he will not post religious messages on his social media accounts, and Penney is hopeful his star man has learned from his controversial past.
“I don’t think anyone outside of his inner circle believes what he was going on about,” Penney told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“I suspect that he’s learnt and hopefully that is the case and let’s just get on and let the man play a game he’s gifted in.”
Penney went on to describe Folau as an “amazing talent” and said his inclusion in the Top League will be a significant boost for the NTT Communications Shining Arcs and Japanese rugby.
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“It’ll be great to have him back in our game, I reckon. It’s people like him who can do special things. We just need to have him involved, don’t we,” he said.
“The fan base, they might have the most intimate knowledge about every little detail but they love it. Having someone like him involved will be really great for NTT Comm.”
Following his dismissal from RA, Folau signed with French rugby league club, the Catalans Dragons, ahead of the 2020 Super League season.
The former NRL and AFL star was recently granted a release from the Perpignan-based side to return to Australia and play for the Southport Tigers alongside two of his brothers in the amateur Gold Coast Rugby League Premiership.
Those plans have been put on hold, though, as he is set to link up with NTT Communications Shining Arcs at some point between mid-August and mid-November.
Folau brings with him a wealth of experience to the Ichikawa-based club after having played 73 tests for the Wallabies between 2013 and 2018.
One of only two players to have won the John Eales Medal as Australia’s best player three times, Folau also won a Super Rugby title with the Waratahs in 2014 and ended his Super Rugby career as the competition’s all-time top try-scorer.
He will not, however, be considered by the Wallabies under Dave Rennie due to his tainted history with the code in Australia, despite meeting RA’s 60-cap eligibility threshold required of overseas-based players.
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