The Blues don’t expect anything other than Israel Folau’s A-game when the under- siege Wallaby makes his return to Super Rugby.
All eyes will be on Folau at Sydney’s Brookvale Oval on Saturday night when the Waratahs fullback makes his first appearance since sparking a tsunami of controversy following anti-homosexuality comments online.
The world class back was sticking firmly to his devout Christian conviction when interviewed on Thursday, which may serve only to create further pressure from his critics, sponsors and Rugby Australia.
However, Blues coach Tana Umaga said if Folau is feeling the heat, it won’t translate into a shaky return to the field.
Umaga, a former All Blacks captain, believes top-flight players trying to cope with off-field issues will often use playing rugby as a form of release.
“I know for some, once they get out on the field, that’s the easy place to be because you’re out there for 80 minutes doing what you love,” Umaga said.
“So I don’t see that being an issue for him. He’s been in pressure situations before so I’m sure he has those strategies to deal with it.”
Blues hooker James Parsons says the Folau factor wasn’t proving a distraction and the playing group had already offered its opinion on the contentious views.
He was more intent on beating the Australian conference leaders and turning around their own poor form, having crashed to a seventh loss last weekend against the Jaguares.
“I’ve been asked about (Folau) a lot. The Blues club is all about diversity and the fact that everyone has a right to their opinion. That’s the stance we take on it,” he said.
“But our big focus is putting in a performance for 80 minutes that we can be proud of.”