Rugby Union Expert & Columnist
Stuart Barnes' talking points: Israel Folau's message is the real problem
Last Updated: 15/04/19 12:48pm
Israel Folau's controversial beliefs and the form of several Top 14 sides are discussed in Stuart Barnes' latest talking points...
1. The game is global. No one doubts that after the events of the last few days. Israel Folau, one of the most exciting players on the planet, made headlines with his online pronouncements, promising an eternity in hell for homosexuals, not to mention liars, fornicators and drunks etc.
It's not the first time his fundamental religious beliefs have clashed with the more enlightened view point of not just Rugby Australia but the nation and, cynical as it sounds, the corporate imperative. The full-back's contract with Rugby Australia will be terminated. The news will hardly come as a shock to him. Whether you like or loathe what he says, he has conviction...and that's the worry.
2. Not long later Billy Vunipola found himself in the court of public opinion. The number eight, like the Wallaby (or ex-Wallaby) full-back, is of Tongan origins. Many Islanders are deeply religious. They learned their brand of Christianity from none other than Europeans, with our empires and missionaries playing the role of convert.
It suited us then. It doesn't now. For that reason, let's go easy on the men. As I wrote in my Sunday newspaper column, it's not the men, it's the message that's the real problem and that message is one passed down from the northern hemisphere.
3. To the rugby. And let's stay global in our views for just a minute or two longer. Nothing has caught my eye more than the quality of the recent Jaguares performances. Unbeaten in South Africa, their last two games, victories against the Bulls, and, in particular, the Sharks on Saturday, have been deeply impressive.
I am sure I don't need to remind English fans that the Pumas, many of whom impressed so much of late, are in the same pool as England and France at the forthcoming World Cup. I'll be keeping an eye on Argentina's Super Rugby side. The Pumas have a history of peaking in World Cup year. The early indications suggest they'll be hugely competitive in Japan.
4. The other big gun in that pool is France, of course. Well, they should be a big gun but who knows? Eight years ago, Tonga beat them in the pool stage of the competition before they went on to lose 8-7 to New Zealand in the final. French rugby? Shrug a shoulder and watch, don't try and make sense of it. I'll be honest with you; I have yet to see Toulouse's crazy game against Clermont, one which Toulouse won by the incredible score of 47-44.
I'll watch it on Tuesday, my catch-up day. I was glued to the Masters where Tiger Woods made it a great eight days for all things Tiger. First of all there was Tiger Roll at Aintree, then the Tigers won a crucial relegation game in Newcastle before Woods won in Augusta on Sunday...anyway I digress; France.
5. Castres are one of my least favourite teams to watch. They are limited in ambition, as keen to negate opposition as to play with any flourish yet they are one of my favourite clubs. Castres is a small town, an hour or so from that giant rugby city, Toulouse. Yet twice this decade they have conquered all before them and won the Top 14. In Christophe Urios, they have one of the smartest coaches in France.
On Saturday they were up to their old tricks in Bordeaux. Both teams had to win, operating on the margins of the top six and qualification for the play-offs. Bordeaux were unbeaten at home this season, were being the operative tense. Eighty ugly minutes later and that record was gone. Castres march on. Next season Urios moves to the bigger city Bordeaux club. It was an awful game but, as ever with Castres, the determination and street-smart nature of their game, impresses.
6 At the other end of the table, Grenoble beat Toulon by a solitary point. They are now within two of Agen in the fight to avoid the second drop spot (Perpignan long consigned to 14th) who were only narrowly beaten themselves in Paris against Stade Francais. Pau, six points off 13th position could yet be dragged down into the scrap.
7. In England, as already mentioned, the Tigers inched home and took a huge step towards safety. In the process, Newcastle became overwhelming favourites for the drop. The previous week, Bristol's losing bonus point was the only point made by the bottom four.
It was all different this time. Bristol sneaked a late win against a Saracens side with their mind elsewhere, Worcester walloped Sale and gained a vital bonus point and Leicester, as we know, headed home with a massive win.
8. Saracens' loss did not surprise me. I expected a Bristol win. Saracens not only rested players, but rested minds and bodies ahead of the European semi-final against Munster this weekend. They are far enough clear of third place that defeat has no implications for a club used to planning peaks and troughs.
9. Exeter's defeat was more of a shock because they are more focused on winning, what with no European distraction this season. Yet they are so many points clear that it isn't a staggering result, a home loss to Wasps, a surprise but no more. That is what is wrong with the play-off system, it takes drama away from the race to the title. Compare and contrast the Premiership with the Premier League.
10. Even without a play-off system, Europe would keep the league alive. Gloucester, now heading for third place and an unenviable play-off trip to Saracens, most likely, came back from 17-0 to beat their old rivals, Bath. In the process they dented Bath's European aspirations. At the Stoop, the Saints clambered to fifth place at the expense of the Harlequins while Wasps' win in Devon, backing up their convincing performance a week earlier against Worcester, projects them into the fight for Europe.
Sale are there or thereabouts also, despite their weakness on the road. All very interesting...as will be Leinster vs Toulouse on Sunday. The Irish have injury issues, the French are improving but do they have the mental strength, the self belief to win in Dublin? If they answer in the affirmative it will be one hell of a game.