RFU to meet Billy Vunipola over Israel Folau comments
Saracens say England star Vunipola's comments are "inconsistent" with their values; Rugby Players' Association and Premiership Rugby also issue statements; Australia's Folau set to have his contract terminated after controversial social media posts
By Joe Shread
Last Updated: 13/04/19 1:08am
The Rugby Football Union (RFU) say they will meet with Billy Vunipola following his support of Israel Folau's controversial comments on social media.
Vunipola refused to distance himself from controversial comments made by Folau and said he has sympathy with the Australian's views.
A RFU spokesperson told Sky Sports News: "Rugby is an inclusive sport and we do not support these views. We will be meeting with Billy to discuss his social media posts."
Vunipola's club side Saracens have said the player's comments are "inconsistent" with the team's values and they will handle the "very serious" matter internally.
A statement from Saracens said: "Saracens proudly embraces diversity and warmly welcomes everyone to the Club regardless of race, gender, religion and sexual orientation.
"Our sport is open to all and we strive for it to be free from all forms of discrimination. We recognise that people have different belief systems and we expect everyone to be treated equally with respect and humility.
"As representatives and role models, Saracens players have a responsibility not only to themselves but to the Club and wider society.
"Billy Vunipola's recent social media posts are inconsistent with this and we take this matter very seriously. It will be handled internally."
A statement from the Rugby Players' Association said: "The RPA represents over 1,200 current and former professional rugby players from a broad range of backgrounds and with a diverse set of beliefs.
"While we acknowledge an individual's right to their own beliefs, the RPA do not support the views expressed in Billy Vunipola's recent social media post.
"We are firmly against any form of discrimination and believe rugby should be an inclusive sport where everybody is welcome, regardless of their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation."
A Premiership Rugby spokesperson said: "Inclusivity is one of the core values of Premiership Rugby and we condemn any behaviour that encourages discrimination.
"We are committed - with the RFU - to keeping rugby in England inclusive and some of the highlighted social media posts over the last day or so are in opposition to this.
"We were delighted to support Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign earlier in the season and welcome the opportunity to continue that next season."
Folau, a devout Christian, posted a picture on social media on Wednesday which included the words: "Warning. Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolators. Hell awaits you. Repent! Only Jesus saves."
Vunipola 'liked' the post, and has now taken to Instagram himself to explain why he will not 'unlike' the picture and why he has sympathy for Folau's views.
The England and Saracens number eight said: "So this morning I got 3 phone calls from people telling me to 'unlike' the @izzyfolau post. This is my position on it.
View this post on Instagram
So this morning I got 3 phone calls from people telling me to ‘unlike’ the @izzyfolau post. This is my position on it. I don’t HATE anyone neither do I think I’m perfect. There just comes a point when you insult what I grew up believing in that you just say enough is enough, what he’s saying isn’t that he doesn’t like or love those people. He’s saying how we live our lives needs to be closer to how God intended them to be. Man was made for woman to pro create that was the goal no? I’m not perfect I’m at least everything on that list at least at one point in my life. It hurts to know that. But that’s why I believe there’s a God. To guide and protect us and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
"I don't HATE anyone neither do I think I'm perfect. There just comes a point when you insult what I grew up believing in that you just say enough is enough, what he's saying isn't that he doesn't like or love those people.
"He's saying how we live our lives needs to be closer to how God intended them to be. Man was made for woman to pro create that was the goal no?
"I'm not perfect I'm at least everything on that list at least at one point in my life. It hurts to know that. But that's why I believe there's a God. To guide and protect us and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
Folau's comments have been widely condemned and Rugby Australia (RA) are planning to terminate his contract.
As well as the Instagram post, he took to Twitter on Wednesday to criticise Tasmania's decision to become the first Australian state to make it optional for parents to state the gender of their child on its birth certificate, saying: "The devil has blinded so many people to this world."
Folau also posted similar comments last year, for which he was not sanctioned by RA, although he did acknowledge he had caused "grief to some people".
Rugby Australia and his Super Rugby side New South Wales Waratahs said they were originally unable to contact Folau after his most recent comments, and that they were taking the decision to terminate his contract "in the absence of compelling mitigating factors".
They have since met with the 30-year-old, and issued a statement saying: "As the meeting was held in confidence between the player and his employers, Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union will not comment on the discussions at the meeting.
"Following today's meeting the two organisations will update their respective boards on the matter to consider next steps. Our joint position regarding Israel Folau is unchanged."
Folau, who has 73 caps for the Wallabies, was almost certain to be Michael Cheika's starting full-back at the upcoming World Cup.
Last weekend, he broke the Super Rugby try-scoring record, racking up his 60th in the Waratahs' defeat to the Blues.