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Former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has applauded a move to fly a rainbow flag above Twickenham as a response to his selection of Israel Folau in a World XV side, who will play against an Eddie Jones-coached Barbarians on Sunday.
Hansen conceded picking Folau for the invitational team was controversial, four years after the 73-cap Wallaby was sacked by Rugby Australia for social media posts saying homosexuals would go to hell. Folau sued Rugby Australia for unfair dismissal, claiming freedom of religious expression, and the parties later settled for an undisclosed sum.
Folau now plays in Japan but his selection for Hansen’s World XV caused a stir and the Rugby Football Union decided it would fly a rainbow flag at Twickenham during the game as a show of support for the LGBTQ community.
Speaking at a press conference in London, Hansen acknowledged Folau’s involvement in the game may cause “hurt” to some, but said he’d picked on rugby merit alone.
“It (the rainbow flag) is a consequence of Folau’s selection and I think it’s a good thing. It’s an opportunity to show support to that flag. I don’t have a problem with it,” Hansen said.
“There wouldn’t be one there if Israel wasn’t playing so whenever we can bring attention to people who are suffering in a positive way, that’s good.
Steve Hansen issuing instructions at the World XV’s training session in London.Credit: Getty
“They deserve to be loved and cared for as much as anybody else. If we all did that it’d be a happy place, wouldn’t it.
“Israel Folau is a very good rugby player. He’s world-class. And I know by picking him that there will be some people hurt. And I get that.
“However, I want those people to understand that Israel’s belief and views are not ours. And we don’t agree with them.
“But he’s a rugby player first and foremost and he’s been sanctioned. Those sanctions have finished, he’s playing rugby, he’s probably going to go to the World Cup so my job is to pick the best team I can pick and that’s what I’ve done.”
Israel Folau playing for the NTT Shining Arcs in Japan’s League One competition.Credit: Getty
Folau is expected to take part in a second Rugby World Cup campaign in France in September with Tonga, for whom he has made one appearance to date.
The former AFL and NRL superstar was key to Australia’s run to the final in 2015 but took no part in the tournament four years later after he was sacked just months out from the Wallabies’ opener against Fiji.
Wallabies star Marika Koroibete was due to play alongside Folau in the World XV but withdrew on Monday with a hip-pointer injury.
Former Wallabies Nick Phipps and ex-Eels star Semi Radradra will play in the star-studded World XV team, however.
Jones’ Barbarians side will feature Wallabies stars Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi, and ex-Walllabies lock Rob Simmons.
Watch all the action from the Barbarians v World XV game ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport. Sunday at 10.50pm (AEST).
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Squads for Barbarians v World XV
BARBARIANS – Eddie Jones
Forwards: Nic Dolly (Leicester Tigers and England), Taulupe Faletau (Cardiff Rugby, Wales, British & Irish Lions), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales, British & Irish Lions), Stephan Lewies (Harlequins and South Africa), Steven Luatua (Bristol Bears and New Zealand), Enrique Pieretto (Glasgow Warriors and Argentina), Carlu Sadie (Cell C Sharks), Rob Simmons (London Irish and Australia), Harry Thacker (Bristol Bears), Sione Vailanu (Glasgow Warriors and Tonga), Aaron Wainwright (Dragons Rugby and Wales), Alex Waller (Northampton Saints), Tom West (Leicester Tigers), Kai Yamamoto (Tokyo Sungoliath)
Backs: Gareth Anscombe (Ospreys and Wales), Quade Cooper (Hanazono Kintetsu Liners and Australia), Aaron Cruden (Tokyo Sungoliath and New Zealand), Francois Hougaard (Saracens and South Africa), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors and Scotland), Samu Kerevi (Tokyo Sungoliath and Australia), Tevita Li (Tokyo Sungoliath), Jack Maunder (Exeter Chiefs and England), Adam Radwan (Newcastle Falcons and England), Taichi Takahashi (Toyota Verblitz and Japan), Seta Tamanivalu (Toshiba Brave Lupus and Fiji)
WORLD XV – Steve Hansen
Forwards: Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors and Scotland), Niccolò Cannone (Benetton Rugby and Italy), Elliot Dee (Dragons Rugby and Wales), Allan Dell (Glasgow Warriors and Scotland), Harry Hockings (Tokyo Sungoliath), Wyn Jones (Scarlets Rugby, Wales, British & Irish Lions), Oli Kebble (Glasgow Warriors and Scotland), Michele Lamaro (Benetton Rugby and Italy), Viliame Mata (Edinburgh Rugby and Fiji), Jordi Murphy (Ulster Rugby and Ireland), Sebastian Negri (Benetton Rugby and Italy), Api Ratuniyarawa (London Irish and Fiji), Marcus Street (Exeter Chiefs)
Backs: Bryn Hall (Shizuoka Blue Revs), Adam Hastings (Gloucester Rugby and Scotland), Israel Folau (Urayasu D-Rocks and Tonga), Ngani Laumape (Kobelco Kobe Steelers and New Zealand), Sbu Nkosi (Vodacom Bulls and South Africa), Rhys Patchell (Scarlets Rugby and Wales), Nick Phipps (Green Rockets Tokatsu and Australia), Charles Piutau (Bristol Bears and Tonga), Semi Radradra (Bristol Bears and Fiji), Kaminieli Rasaku (Aviron Bayonnais and Fiji 7s)
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