The Israel Folau controversy split the Wallabies’ World Cup camp and even led to a player boycotting a pre-tournament camp, according to court documents.
The Daily Telegraph obtained the documents that show 110-test forward Sekope Kepu refused to attend a Wallaby camp in protest at what he saw as the marginalisation of Pacific Island players.
Kepu also claims he was barred from a New South Wales Waratahs media session because of fears he would back Folau.
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Kepu and star back Samu Kerevi filed affidavits in November backing Folau in his wrongful termination case against Rugby Australia.
They show Kepu as writing: “My perception was that the media was briefed to approach people who would toe the ‘anti-Israel’ line and were discouraged from approaching potential Israel’s supporters (including Christian players).
“The Wallabies’ next camp after Israel’s posts in April 2019 was in around July 2019, before our Rugby Championship matches that year. I did not attend the camp.
“This was because I was so upset about the way in which management had handled Israel’s situation that I didn’t think it would be a good thing for me to attend.”
Kerevi stated: “It seemed to me that Israel was being sacked for simply expressing his faith. I found that very difficult to square up with the way others had been treated.
“It seemed to me that most types of conduct could easily be forgiven by management, but that conduct involving religion was different. All this made it difficult for me to counsel the more junior players in the locker room. At the time I wanted to support Israel publicly.
“I couldn’t because the players (including me) were told by management not to comment on the issue.”
However Laura Ryan, who was the Waratahs media manager at the time, says Kepu chose not to do the interview.
The Telegraph report states: “Kepu said he took his concerns about team division and the marginalisation of Christian players to RA chief Raelene Castle, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, NSW coach Daryl Gibson and captain Michael Hooper.
It says he told Castle that the way the explosive Folau situation was being dealt with could divide the Wallabies and that “Christian Polynesians in the teams were disappointed by the actions of Rugby Australia”.
Kepu’s version of events state that Castle began to take the matter with Folau personally. He spoke to Castle two weeks after Folau’s 2019 post. Kepu says the RA boss said something like “Israel threw me under the bus in a Players Voice article”.
Kepu said this attitude was in contrast to her more relaxed response to Folau’s original 2018 post in which he said hell awaits various sinners including homosexuals.
Castle has denied any players were muzzled.
“A lot of work was done by Rugby Australia and the Super Rugby teams to provide open communication on the issue to all players throughout the matter, and when requested, counsel and advice was provided to individuals,” Castle said.
“At all times the priority … was to support the players. We wrote to all players to remind them of their obligations under the code of conduct and our social media policy, but no player was prevented from speaking … or asked to support Rugby Australia’s position regarding Israel in the media.
“At various times, a number of players expressed that they were not comfortable to speak publicly about the issue. Some of those were Christian players who supported Israel as an individual and friend, but did not support his comments.”
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