Wallabies’ Director of Rugby Scott Johnson has backed the hard-line stance taken by Rugby Australia (RA) over Israel Folau’s controversial social media posts and called for the sport to embrace inclusiveness.
Folau, a fundamentalist Christian, faces having his Wallabies contract torn up, after posting comments that gay people were destined for “hell” if they did not “repent”.
Johnson, who helped former Wales skipper Gareth Thomas come to terms with his sexuality more than a decade ago, said Wallabies fullback Folau would have the opportunity to put his case forward at a Code of Conduct hearing with RA on May 4.
“I want to make it really clear – I’m very supportive of where Rugby Australia is in this stance,” Johnson told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday. “What I will say … is we want a game that includes everyone.”I’ve had kids that have come out of addiction issues and I was also very, very privileged and honoured to be … the person that Gareth Thomas needed to talk to about his sexuality.”
Johnson formed a tight bond with Thomas at Wales, where he was an assistant coach for a number of years and a caretaker in the head role for a few tests in 2006. Thomas came out in 2009, two years after playing the last of his 103 tests, but confided in Johnson that he was gay after a 29-29 draw with Australia in Cardiff in 2006.
Although working for the Wallabies as an assistant coach at the time, Johnson remained with the Wales camp to help Thomas talk to his team mates and coaches about it.
“I was coaching the opposition and I got called into the change room because he only wanted to talk to me,” Johnson recalled on Wednesday. “I spent the next 24 hours off-site in the opposition’s hotel talking to his team mates because he couldn’t, nor his coaching staff and his management.
“It goes beyond rugby. This is human relationship. I had a kid that I absolutely loved to coach, I loved what he stood for (but was) troubled.” Thomas later revealed in interviews that he had contemplated suicide as he wrestled with his sexuality and Johnson said rugby had helped the Welshman out of a “dark period”.
“You don’t coach just to win trophies, you coach to make people better and that’s why I’m in the sport and I’m passionate about it,” he added.