Michael Cheika and Israel Folau.

The saga surrounding Israel Folau’s departure from Rugby Australia resulted in former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika being harassed on the street. Pictures: Getty Images

Former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has revealed how he was aggressively confronted in the streets by irate fans demanding answers in the wake of the Israel Folau social media saga. In a two-part documentary to air on ABC TV this month – titled Folau – the program explores the impact and fallout following the superstar’s posting of a Bible verse warning homosexuals they were headed for hell.

The 2018 controversy ultimately led to Rugby Australia terminating Folau’s contract after a heated code of conduct hearing. The documentary’s synopsis reads: “Folau is the story of one of Australia’s most gifted and controversial athletes, and how a media social post landed him at the heart of our cultural wars, derailing careers in the process.”

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It is labelled a “complex and sad” story that divided communities and ended relationships within the rugby union fraternity, sparking freedom of speech debates around the country. And Cheika, who would lose his job shortly after the Folau drama, was caught right in the middle of it.

“That was a really difficult time for the team. Really difficult,” Cheika tells the documentary. “I was confronted in the street aggressively, many times by people. I imagine that was happening to players as well.”

Wallabies star Samu Kerevi, who liked Folau’s controversial post despite having gay family members, remains upset he was unable to defend his former teammate.

“We got told not to say anything about supporting Izzy or saying anything at all. But everyone that didn’t support him was all over the news,” he says. “They were interviewed. They were allowed to say they didn’t support the message.

“People are going to court for whatever and they’re not getting sacked. If someone (commits) domestic violence he’s okay to play, but someone that’s posted something that was in the Bible, no, let’s not play on.”

Documentary to explore Israel Folau’s exit from Wallabies

Without Folau, Australia endured a disappointing 2019. The Wallabies struggled in the Rugby Championship and dipped out of the World Cup at the quarte-final stage.

Reflecting on the results, Kerevi says: “I don’t blame Izzy. I don’t blame Rugby Australia.

“The only thing we missed was Izzy on the field. We wanted to play rugby with the best team and the best fullback in the world and he’s not here.”

Israel Folau is tackled by an opponent.Israel Folau is tackled by an opponent.

Israel Folau took up playing rugby in Japan after his career in Australia came to an end following his social media posts condemning homosexuality – leading to his contract being cancelled. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

The documentary, directed by Nel Minchin, also features actor Magda Szubanski, former Wallabies Dan Palmer and Toutai Kefu and church and religious leaders. Folau, now 34 and playing in Japan, refused to take part in the program.

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