World XV coach Steve Hansen has defended the selection of controversial ex-Wallaby Israel Folau to play against the Barbarians on Sunday, saying the move will help promote diversity within the sport.
- Israel Folau has been named in the World XV squad by for a match against the Barbarians
- The RFU says it will fly a Pride flag above Twickenham during the match
- Wallabies coach Eddie Jones will take charge of a star-studded Barbarians team in the contest
The rainbow pride flag will fly at Twickenham for the match, something Hansen said would not have happened without Folau’s inclusion.
Folau, who was sacked by Rugby Australia four years ago, has been named in a star-studded squad, along with Australians Nick Phipps and Marika Koroibete.
Hansen said that although he did not share Folau’s views and that his selection could be harmful, he was first and foremost a player who deserved to play.
“Israel Folau is a very good rugby player,” two-time World Cup-winning coach Hansen told BBC Sport.
“He’s world class. And I know by picking him that there will be some people hurt and I get that.
“However, I want those people to understand that Israel’s belief and views are not ours. And we don’t agree with them.
“But he’s a rugby player first and foremost and he’s been sanctioned.
“Those sanctions have finished, he’s playing rugby, he’s probably going to go to the World Cup so my job is to pick the best team I can pick and that’s what I’ve done.”
The 34-year-old Folau, who played 73 times for the Wallabies, had a brief spell in rugby league before returning to the 15-a-side code, playing club rugby in Japan for Urayasu D-Rocks.
He has since been selected to play for Tonga and will likely line up for the ‘Ikale Tahi in the World Cup later this year in France.
The Rugby Football Union responded to Folau’s selection by announcing it will raise a Pride flag at Twickenham during the game.
Contrary to Hansen’s acknowledgement that Folau’s inclusion would be harmful to some people, the former New Zealand coach said flying the pride flag was a “positive consequence” of Folau’s inclusion.
“They wouldn’t be flying the flag if he wasn’t [selected],” Hansen told BBC Sport.
“The flag is being brought to the attention of people, and the awareness of why it is there is to support the people that are judged and treated poorly because of who they are.
“They deserve to be loved and cared for as much as anybody else. If we all did that it’d be a happy place, wouldn’t it?
“The big lesson there is just treat everyone with kindness and love.”
Wallabies coach Eddie Jones will lead a similarly stacked Barbarians side for the one-off match at Twickenham, England, including Japan-based Wallabies World Cup hopefuls Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi, who spoke about his feelings over the Folau sacking in the ABC Documentary Folau, part two, which airs on Thursday, May 25.
Jones told ABC Breakfast he was looking forward to coaching the historic invitational side.
“The big thing for me this week is coaching the Barbarians,” Jones said.
“They are an important institution in rugby. They’re very much about the spirit of the game. We want to play with good spirit, good endeavour, play good rugby and then, the second bonus is working with Quade [Cooper] and Samu [Kerevi], who are potentially World Cup members.
“Hopefully playing and coaching the Barbarians, a team that plays with a lot of spirit, will be important.”
Jones said competition for the Wallabies squad was expected to be tight.
“We’ve got to pick a squad of 33 for the Rugby Championship and then for the World Cup,” he said.
“We need everyone competing, competing hard and those guys who have been playing overseas will get an opportunity to come back in the camp and put their best foot forward.”
Jones added in typical fashion that he was nonplussed about returning to London, just months after being ousted as coach of England.
“I don’t have any real feelings,” he said.
“I think once you’ve moved on from a job, you tend to put that last job behind you.”
As for any reaction he expected from the England fans in London, Jones was typically brusque.
“I don’t really care.”