The Israel Folau scandal which has rocked Australian rugby over the past two months has had wide reaching effects on the sport.
The fallout has been huge with players from the NSW Waratahs revealing how it has affected their season.
Speaking on Channel 9’s Sports Sunday, Wallabies scrumhalf Nick Phipps said he “couldn’t speak for everyone” but admitted Folau’s actions had shaken both the Wallabies and the Waratahs to their cores ahead of the pointy end of the Super Rugby season.
He added it “distracted us from our goal to be making finals this year” but Waratahs coach Darryl Gibson refused to blame the Folau fallout for failing to make the finals as his troops ended their season with a 49-12 loss to the Highlanders on Friday night.
There are positive signs for Australian rugby out of the Folau saga.Source:Getty Images
Speaking to news.com.au, former Wallabies star and FOX SPORTS rugby analyst Drew Mitchell said if the players were discussing the Folau issue, it was clearly a distraction and the Waratahs’ grim end to the season may have been a consequence of all the Folau talk.
“Obviously it’s going to be significant to a point,” he said. “If players are saying it’s been a distraction, you have to take their word for it. They’re the ones going out there and preparing for a game.
“To what degree will vary between every individual and then the leadership group can manage the impact it has on the team. But what Darryl was saying was it wasn’t the Israel Folau saga that was forcing them to drop balls or the moments in the game.
“I think it’s fair to say in terms of preparation, it would have been a distraction to a point. It’s unfortunate because it’s not just those players or coaches at the Waratahs but everyone in rugby because everyone had so many questions that no one had any answers to and it just became a simmering noise that no one was able to mute throughout the course of the season.”
The Waratahs’ loss wasn’t the only bad news for Australian rugby on Friday night. The Chiefs thrashed early season pacesetters the Melbourne Rebels 59-8 to crush the Victorian team’s finals hopes.
Drew Mitchell says Tevita Kuridrani is in “career-best form”.Source:AAP
It leaves the Brumbies as the sole remaining Australian side alive in the competition.
The result may be far from what Rugby Australia was hoping for, but Mitchell said there are definitely some positives to be taken from the season.
“There’s definitely an improvement from an Australian rugby point of view,” he said. “The Brumbies are in fantastic form at the moment and they look quite formidable going into this playoff series.”
It could have been much different for the Aussie teams with the Waratahs losing eight games by eight points or less, while the youthful Reds made huge strides and the Rebels were the standout side of the first half of the competition.
It lays a strong platform for the future despite having just the one team in the eight-team finals series.
“Obviously you want more teams involved but if you look at Super Rugby itself, there are so many teams across all three conferences that are still eligible to go through and make this playoff series,” Mitchell said.
“There’s probably never been a tighter Super Rugby season to date. Some of it is a reflection of our own guys’ performances but it’s also a reflection of where the competition is at.
“I don’t think it (there being only one Aussie team in the finals) puts Rugby Australia going into a World Cup in a worse position, I think there are moments in a game where they will have looked at already and they will look at in Wallaby camp about how they close out those game and getting those outcomes they need.”
The shadow of Folau over the game will decline as the sport moves on according to Mitchell.Source:Getty Images
While Mitchell rates the Brumbies as a chance of breaking their 15-year Super Rugby championship drought, many fans will switch their focus to September’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
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The spectre of Folau still hangs over the Wallabies, having not played a Test since his contract was torn up but Mitchell expects the issue will diminish as the world moves on from the scandal.
“The Wallabies minus Israel Folau will get brought up every now and then but I think being in that environment before, Michael Cheika is really good at being able to create an environment where everything external is irrelevant to what’s happening inside the confines of the team room and the players,” Mitchell said.
“I’ve never really experienced where he hasn’t been able to get everyone’s sole attention on the common goal which is to go out there and perform for the Wallabies at the World Cup.
“There will be people bringing it up for different reasons whether they want to see the Wallabies succeed or they want to see them fail. But for Michael Cheika and his staff, they’ll do a really good job of just making sure they go in and speak about it, they bury it and they go on to worry about the task at hand.
“For the guys, they’re going to go out there and perform as best they can and be respectful and go about it in a way that best represents themselves as well as the jersey they’re wearing. I don’t think we’ll hear too much about it from within the Wallabies group.”
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