Top 15 of 2017: Folau follows sabbatical path

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by Beth Newman

It's been a big year in rugby on many different fronts, so is taking a look back at the 15 biggest storylines of the year, based on the stories you read and reacted to.

#10: Folau follows sabbatical footsteps 

Wallabies fullback Israel Folau made the surprise decision to sit out the end of 2017, after more than a decade of round-the-year rugby and rugby league.

Folau, 28, played his last Wallabies game of the year against the Barbarians in Sydney in October, staying at home through the Spring Tour, and marrying Maria Tutaia during the break.

He’s far from the first rugby player to take time out from the game, with Kiwi stars Richie McCaw and Dan Carter taking breaks through their careers, along with current All Black Ben Smith, while David Pocock also stepped away from Australian rugby for a year in 2017.

The Wallabies star’s call ended his chances of an individual try scoring record, with Folau racking up 12 scores in 10 Tests, the most of an Australian in a calendar year.

His form had already been rewarded in 2017, Folau winning a record third John Eales Medal in October.

Folau’s choice to step away for a short time generated some mixed reactions among punters, at the end of a year where he had created some controversy off the field.

A tweet about Australia’s same sex marriage debate was criticised and praised in equal parts by punters, though it put the quietly-spoken back in the spotlight.

He stuck by his beliefs when asked about his opposition to marriage equality, something that has now been brought into federal legislation.

While not everyone supported Folau’s move to take time off, the proof will be in the pudding when he returns to the Waratahs in January, hoping to revive some Super Rugby form.