Coach Daryl Gibson admits “there’s still a lot of love and care” for Israel Folau within the NSW Waratahs ranks as the Wallabies superstar fights desperately to save his career.
While declining to directly discuss the possibility of welcoming him back into the fold if an independent panel opted against tearing up his contract, Gibson’s softening stance at least offered the suspended fullback a glimmer of hope.
Speaking from Johannesburg before the Waratahs’ crunch Super Rugby clash with the Lions, Gibson was asked if he was resigned to losing Folau for good.
The independent panel that on Tuesday determined Folau had committed a “high- level” breach of contract for posting controversial Bible passages proclaiming hell awaits homosexuals and other “sinners” is expected to announce a sanction in the coming days.
The termination of his four-year, $4 million contract is a possibility.
Gibson acknowledged focusing had been difficult when such an integral player’s career was on the line.
“It’s around us, it’s a high news story so it would be naive for me to say it hasn’t been a distraction,” he said.
“We’ve been very open and transparent. We’ve tried to keep our boys updated every step of the way with what’s going on with our teammate because there’s still a lot of love and care for Israel within the team – he’s a teammate, we care for him.”
With the Waratahs having been in South Africa during Folau’s landmark code of conduct hearing, it’s been left to NSW Rugby general manager Tim Rapp to provide the players with regular updates.
“That’s been very helpful,” Gibson said.
“I think we’ve been very mature and adult in making sure all our opinions are expressed to him and I think our team has become a lot closer for it and we can celebrate the fact we don’t have to all agree or disagree on where we sit.
“But we are joined in one common purpose and that’s playing for the Waratahs and having a real purpose around the team.”
Veteran halfback Nick Phipps said Folau had let the Waratahs down yet they’d be prepared to forgive him if he promised to return with a team-first approach.
“Israel’s an actual lovely bloke around the club. He’s a very nice guy, he’s very popular with the players,” Phipps told Macquarie Sports Radio.
“He’s the kind of guy that turns up every day and wants to get better, so playing-wise he’s certainly someone you’d love to have back in your team.”