Wallabies star Israel Folau has revealed he “really enjoyed” the controversy over anti-gay remarks he made earlier this year that briefly cast doubt on his future in the sport.
Deeply religious Israel Folau caused uproar when he said on social media in April that God’s plan for gay people was hell unless they repented their sins.
Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle grilled him on the issue and the organisation distanced itself from his views, prompting speculation Folau might return to rugby league, where he played from 2007-2010.
However, with his future as a Wallaby reportedly sealed after signing a lucrative deal through to 2022, Folau spoke at length ahead of Australia’s Test against New Zealand in Yokohama this weekend about the “rollercoaster” he had experienced.
In comments reported by rugby.com.au, Folau said the following:
“To be quite honest, it might sound a bit crazy, I kind of really enjoyed what was happening off the field,”
“Not that it happened on purpose, but my identity is based around my faith in God… it was actually moulding me into becoming stronger and taught me a lot of things that I needed to learn, and I’m still learning now.”
Folau said his views on gay marriage had not changed but he had now learned to “love and forgive” those who did not agree with him.
Several players condemned Folau’s comments at the time, including teammate David Pocock and All Black TJ Perenara, who he will face on Saturday.
“I totally understand everyone else’s view. They are obviously different to mine and I respect that. It doesn’t change how I look at that person.
“What I don’t want to do is compromise what I believe in. Being true to my faith in God, I’m always going to follow that.”
Folau is set to start at outside-centre against the All Blacks for the first time in his 69-Test career but said he was looking forward to wearing the number 13 jersey.
“I’m confident in having to defend there up front. It’s all about the connections with guys inside and outside of you,” he said.
“So if we’re on the same page there, I’m very comfortable in reading and staying connected with the guys inside and outside of me.”
© Agence France-Presse (Additional edits from Richard Barrett)