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Rugby rift blame game: The buck stops with Raelene Castle

The widening rift between Australian rugby players who support Israel Folau and those who don’t has become a major headache for Rugby Australia.

With Israel Folau’s code of conduct hearing set for Saturday, the Sydney Morning Herald’s rugby writer Georgina Robinson says the situation is messy.

“The two parties have really gone to ground because of the hearing, they don’t want to do anything or make a statement which could prejudice anything,” Robinson told David Morrow and Matt Thompson on Macquarie Sports Radio.

“In the midst of all of that there’s a lot miscommunication, a lot of insecurity and fear among some players in Australia, and that’s what we saw yesterday.”

Robinson refers to yesterday’s flare-up on – predictably – social media after Wallaby front rower Taniela Tupou published and then deleted an incendiary post on Facebook claiming Rugby Australia “might as well sack me and all the other Pacific Islands rugby players around the world” because they share the same religious beliefs as the outspoken Israel Folau.

There are also whispers that a growing cohort of senior Wallabies will boycott selection if Israel Folau’s contract isn’t torn up, although Robinson said she “hasn’t heard of any talk of a serious boycott,”

“But should that come to pass, it would be a disaster for the sport, this is a world cup year, the world cup is in September, we’re four months away so Michael Cheika definitely has some emergency relationship building to do,

“He worked really hard on uniting that team around a common cause over the last few years but the results have not gone his way,

“But they did work out who they were and they were definitely a team who knew about each others beliefs and knew about their different backgrounds and respected everyone for those beliefs and backgrounds,

“This latest set of Tweets and posts from Folau has put that harmony in jeopardy” she said.

The situation has reached a point where fingers must be pointed at the Rugby Australia brass who allowed things to get so out of hand. Robinson says the blame lies at the feet of one person.

“It all comes down to Raelene Castle,” Robinson said.

“She’s the chief executive and that’s where the buck stops,

“You could argue there’s a board issue there as well but certainly it was Raelene’s call to try and navigate her way though last year’s social media firestorm with Israel and she did that with the best of intentions,

“When they re-signed Folau – inarguably one of Australia’s best players – on a deal worth less money, that was a real triumph for her administration,

“It’s definitely important to remember while the buck will stop with her, this is not a problem of her making, it was Israel Folau’s choice to go out – knowing what those messages do to the game and do to is teammates – he came out and made those posts again.”

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