SYDNEY, Australia – November 28, 2019: 8pm (STUFF NZ): A senior Australian test player warned then Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle that Israel Folau’s sacking would cause a rift in the Wallabies, it has been claimed in amended court documents filed by the former fullback.
The 74-test dual international also upped his lost earnings claim to A$14 million (NZ$14.8 million) on the basis he could have captained Australia to a Rugby World Cup win, and said that at least 15 of his team-mates and members of the coaching staff had reached out to urge him to return, insisting there would be no ill will toward him if he did so, or to offer their support.
The explosive new allegations were filed in the Federal Circuit Court and published on Wednesday as part of an amended statement of claim in Folau’s ongoing unlawful termination battle with Rugby Australia.
He was sacked in April following controversial social media posts that condemned “homosexuals” to hell.
A three-person independent tribunal found him guilty of a high-level breach of the game’s professional players’ code of conduct, but Folau is suing RA under the Fair Work Act for terminating his contract on the basis of religion.
The parties are due to kick off a fresh round of mediation in Melbourne on Monday, with a court hearing set down for February if they fail to reach a settlement.
Folau’s legal team also raised the prospect of evidence being given by “senior Wallabies players” in court and the chance they may be put under the microscope if cross-examined by RA’s legal representatives.
“We detail what was allegedly said to those players and who they told that information to, and we have a number of affidavits that have been provided by senior Wallabies players that will form part of the hearing from February 2020,” Folau’s solicitor, George Haros, said.
The amended statement of claim alleges a “a senior player had told Ms Castle and Mr Cheika that the termination of Mr Folau was likely to cause division amongst the Wallabies and that Christian Polynesians in the team were offended by the actions of Rugby Australia.
“In the course of giving evidence to the tribunal on behalf of Rugby Australia, neither Ms Castle nor Mr Cheika gave evidence about the [potential rift], which was a denial of natural justice and/or a breach by Rugby Australia of the Implied Evidence Term, and which had the consequence that the purported decision of the tribunal was void and of no effect,” the claim states.
The claims shed further light on the extreme challenges raised by Folau’s actions in April and RA’s reaction. The Wallabies were five months out from the World Cup and were already at a low ebb after a disastrous test campaign in 2018.
At the next Wallabies camp in Brisbane the following month, Cheika had the team talk about the issue in small groups. He maintained they moved on after that and never had to address it again.
The statement of claim also details the rationale behind a A$4 million (NZ$4.2 million) jump in the 30-year-old’s A$14 million (NZ$14.8 million) bid for compensation.
It reveals that Folau’s contract, worth A$4.2 million (NZ$4.4 million) over four years when he signed it in October last year, was tied to his appearances at four “Israel Folau branded kids’ camps” each year, plus about $600,000 in test payments and sponsorship fees.
It also claims that he would have played on for one to two years after the end of that contract, earning up to A$3 million (NZ$3.16 million) at the age of 35, plus up to $4.74 million for a lucrative post-Wallabies career in Super Rugby or overseas.
Folau also put his post-retirement worth at up to $52,700 a year over 25 years after, the claim states, “a superior performance at the 2019 Rugby World Cup by the Wallabies than what was achieved without Mr Folau, and possible captainship of a trophy-winning Wallabies team …”
“Israel’s team has put forward to the court a significant body of evidence and affidavit material including expert evidence that supports the rise in that claim to $14 million,” Haros said outside court in Melbourne.
“It’s a number of things [that go into the claim] and they will all be played out before the court in February and we will have experts there to support those claims.”