Wallabies coach Michael Cheika admits fans could turn away from Israel Folau as a rolemodel, after a string of religious social media posts.
A month after meeting with Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle and NSWRU CEO Andrew Hore over his controversial social media use, Folau continued to stand firm on his beliefs on social media, polarising the public.
Asked what his message would be to a young gay rugby fan who idolises Folau, Cheika said support systems and learning to ‘detach’ from such messages was the key.
“The self-esteem in people, no matter who they are, is extremely important,” he said on FOX SPORTS’ Kick & Chase program.
“Self-belief, self-esteem, and if that’s something you don’t agree with, you detach from that.
“The way it’ll be (is), ‘He’s no longer my idol’, effects like that.
“There’s been a lot made of that but I believe it’s something - self esteem is so important - and us as parents and as coaches, even when players are getting the same in return, nasty messages, social media, it’s about trying to build self belief in them so you’re not affected by those things.
“Because you don’t want people to get affected by that stuff, that is 100 per cent clear.
“It’s not up to the kid, it’s the parents around, the others around, that’s what you’ve got to do.
“You’ve got to protect those kids, from everything that’s out there, there’s other things out there you might not like (too).”
On the field, there’s no question Folau will be part of Cheika’s squad in June, and certainly playing at fullback.
Cheika said there wouldn’t be many surprises in his June Series squad, just over a year out from the Rugby World Cup to be announced on May 30, but past development players like Jack Maddocks and Izaia Perese are likely to be considered again.
Hooker is one of the most wide open spots, with Tatafu Polota-Nau likely to be rested for the series, and Tolu Latu the only capped Wallabies hooker playing in Super Rugby.
Anaru Rangi and Brendan Paenga-Amosa have both caught Cheika's attention, while Folau Faingaa was part of the Wallabies' Barbarians squad last year.
Latu returned to the Waratahs’ 23 for the second time this season on Wednesday, named for the team’s clash against the Highlanders, giving him a chance to push for an unlikely debut.
“He’s had his own issues around getting fully committed earlier in the season but I’ve chatted to him and he looks like he’s fully committed.”
Cheika was non-committal when asked about the reported looming signing of Crusaders’ Pete Samu with the Brumbies, something that would make him eligible for the Wallabies immediately should he sign for at least two seasons.
The Wallabies coach also ruled out selecting Quade Cooper, saying he felt the playmaker should have taken up the chance to revive his Super Rugby career in Melbourne or Canberra if he wanted to be considered.