One Percenters: Vunipola embroiled in Folau fallout

by Beth Newman, Emma Greenwood and Iain Payten

The debate around Israel Folau's social media use has gone global with England no. 8 Billy Vunipola drawn into the conversation in recent days.

Vunipola had liked Folau's controversial post last week that put the Wallabies star in hot water and doubled down on his support with an Instagram post of his own after he was urged to unlike Folau's.

The 26-year-old instantly drew the ire of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and his club Saracens.

The RFU said it planned to meet with Vunipola to discuss his comments and Saracens distanced itself from his views in a statement.

So this morning I got 3 phone calls from people telling me to ‘unlike’ the @izzyfolau post. This is my position on it. I don’t HATE anyone neither do I think I’m perfect. There just comes a point when you insult what I grew up believing in that you just say enough is enough, what he’s saying isn’t that he doesn’t like or love those people. He’s saying how we live our lives needs to be closer to how God intended them to be. Man was made for woman to pro create that was the goal no? I’m not perfect I’m at least everything on that list at least at one point in my life. It hurts to know that. But that’s why I believe there’s a God. To guide and protect us and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

A post shared by Billy Vunipola (@vunipola_billy) on

Fans booed Vunipola when he came off the bench for Saracens against Bristol on the weekend and Saracens coach Mark McCall said the furore had taken its toll on his star.

“He’s a human being, isn’t he?” he said.

"He’s also very keen to do well for his teammates. He’s a great team man and a great club man.

"I thought he did very well [today against Bristol] but I’m sure there was a lot of stuff going on in his head.”

“We haven’t sat down with him as a club. I’ll talk to him myself but the club will talk to him as well in due course.

"I don’t want to get dragged into this. I’m not going to give my opinion. If you don’t mind, I’ll keep referring to the club statement. I don’t think my opinion is particularly relevant.”

Bristol coach Pat Lam, who is a Christian, said he wasn't about to make a judgement on Vunipola or anyone else's comments.

"The number one thing that I know with my faith is,” he said.

“Jesus is very clear – I’m not here to judge anyone.

"I’ll judge their performances later as a rugby coach, but I’m not going to judge anyone or what anyone does.

"It’s about what I do, about my relationship with the big feller, how I treat people - and that’s all I can control. I’m not going to judge anybody on their views or beliefs.”

Smith twins relish homecoming

The Bulls were the overwhelming favourites at Loftus Versfeld but a small pocket of the crowd was cheering fervently for the Reds.

Or a couple of Reds, to be specific.

Front-row twins JP and Ruan Smith had about 40 family members in the crowd in Pretoria and playing in front of them brings the best out in the pair.

"I love playing there," JP said of returning to South Africa, where he lived until he moved to Australia with his family at age 20.

"We've got a lot of family there, so it makes it a bit more special for us.

"The culture and that sort of stuff, it's special for us."

But it's also an emotional time for the brothers, who have to see family they left behind when they moved to Australia.

"A lot of them don't have the opportunity to come over to Australia because of reasons," he said.

"For us also, it's eye-opening to see how fortunate we are to be able to live here.

"So in a sense it's hard for us to leave them there, it's quite tough.

"It is (emotional). We try and see each other every year but it's quite tough."

Ballymore Cup makes big waves

The Queensland Rugby Union is continuing to work to expand the game, with hundreds of players from non-traditional rugby schools descending on the game’s home in Brisbane last week for the Ballymore Cup.

With age group competitions from U13 to U18s, hundreds of new players have been introduced to the game in Queensland’s largest schoolboy rugby competition.

The tournament is considered crucial to Queensland Rugby’s development pathway, presenting an opportunity for those from non-traditional rugby schools, as well as regional areas an opportunity to compete at a higher level.

St Laurences beat Iona College 34-0 in the final of the open competition.

Nestor welcomes Test spoils

It's been a long time coming but Wallaroos coach Dwayne Nestor says he feels "spoiled" by an expanded Test calendar.

The Wallaroos will play an unprecedented four Tests in a non-World Cup year this season, including three internationals on home soil.

Next year, they will be part of a four-nation championship against New Zealand, England and Canada 

When they faced off against the Black Ferns in Sydney last year, the women had not played in Australia for a decade.

Nestor had been vocal in his desire for extra Tests and said he was pleased to see that desire come to fruition.

"It just aids in the preparation - to be able to play a quality opposition like Japan as well as the two tests against the Black Ferns is great," he said.

"Then to find out the four nations tournament ahead of 2021 - it's exactly what we've been asking for and we got it.

"I feel a little spoilt."

Nestor said he was also pleased with Rugby Australia's increased commitment to women's rugby, which is only set to continue despite Australia missing out on hosting rights for the 2021 Women's Rugby World Cup.

The Wallaroos will be able to call on the influence of Wallabies legend Stephen Larkham this season as well as part of his new role.

Larkham has already spent time with the women and Nestor said his knowledge was invaluable.

"He’s been involved in looking attack structures and systems, he's a really good sounding board," he said.

2019 TAS carnival the biggest yet

The Armidale School's annual U12 tournament is the largest in the country and this year it has grown to unprecedented size.

Fifty-one school teams from around the country flocked to country NSW for the tournament this weekend in its largest staging.

Among the new entrants this year was a Queensland Samoan side, made up of Samoans from around Brisbane.