Former Australia international Israel Folau (C) is now representing Tonga
London (AFP) - Steve Hansen acknowledged on Tuesday the hurt he caused by selecting former Australia rugby star Israel Folau in a World XV squad to play the Barbarians but said he had to pick the “best team”.
Folau, an outspoken Christian, who won 73 caps for the Wallabies, was sacked by Rugby Australia in 2019 after a social media post warning “hell awaits” gay people.
The talented back, 34, has since switched allegiance to Tonga and is set to play at the Rugby World Cup in France later this year.
England’s governing Rugby Football Union is planning to fly a gay pride flag at Sunday’s non-cap match at Twickenham in a show of support for the LGBTQ community.
“He is a very good rugby player,” Hansen told reporters.
“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 beliefs 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.”
- ‘World-class’ -
Hansen, who labelled Folau “world-class”, insisted: “My job is to pick the best team I can pick and that’s what I’ve done.”
World XV boss Steve Hansen is a former New Zealand head coach
The New Zealander, 64, also addressed the topic of how best to protect players from potentially serious head injuries, questioning the use of red cards.
England full-back Freddie Steward was dismissed as Ireland sealed a Six Nations Grand Slam in Dublin in March, only for a disciplinary committee to overturn the sanction.
There are concerns that such officiating could blight the tournament in France, although World Rugby officials are seeking to introduce an in-game review system to relieve referees of the pressure of making a red-card call immediately.
“If you keep giving red cards out, people think the game’s dirty, so it’s imploding upon itself,” said Hansen, who suggested players ought to be barred from lowering their heads below hip height as a way of reducing the danger.
“It’s easy for me to sit here and have all the answers but somehow we’ve got to bring a more common-sense approach to finding a solution.”
Hansen, who led the All Blacks to World Cup glory in 2015, will go head-to-head against Barbarians boss Eddie Jones this weekend.
Jones, in charge of Australia for a second stint, is making his first return to Twickenham since being sacked by England in December.
Hansen hailed Jones as a “great rugby man” when asked whether England had been right to sack a coach who took them to the 2019 World Cup final, having reached the showpiece match in 2003 with the Wallabies.
“Eddie has got a good record at World Cups,” said Hansen.
“And he was pretty focused on making sure he got that team to the World Cup and wanted to win it.
“So that person who was so hungry and so experienced in that environment is no longer there.”