It may be a subtle statement, but a prayer circle at the end of the Rebels versus Bulls game in Melbourne this past Friday was a powerful reminder to Rugby Australia that they are on dangerous grounds.
Bulls captain and Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard confirmed his side was asked to join a prayer circle with the Rebels after the Bulls won 32-17 in their Round 14.
“One of the Rebels boys asked us before the game if we wanted to join in and of course we said yes, because a lot of the boys are into that [prayer],” Pollard said in an interview published on FoxSports.
Asked if an opposition Australian player had ever extended the invitation pre-game, Pollard said: “No, first time, first time.”
While teams from all over the world have often had small prayer groups on the field at various times, the unique step to of inviting the Bulls pre-game came just hours after Rugby Australia terminated Israel Folau contract over his religious posts on social media.
Pollard played down any possible link between the prayer circle and the Folau.
“No, no, it was just about the game and the boys that participated,” he said.
However, it’s the second week in a row that the Rebels have formed a large prayer group on the field – rather than behind closed doors.
The previous week they formed also formed a post-match prayer circle after their 30-24 win over the Reds in Melbourne.
There have been reports of ‘deep hurt and anger’ among large sections of Australia’s deeply religious Polynesian player base.
Taniela Tupou, Sekope Kepu and Samu Kerevi are among the players who have publicly expressed their religious convictions in recent weeks.
* Meanwhile Wallaby legend Will Genia admitted to “feeling sorry” for Folau.
Gathering in Brisbane on Sunday for a pre-World Cup Wallabies camp, Genia said it was a good chance for players to regroup following Folau’s contract termination.
Folau has until Monday to appeal against the loss of his lucrative Rugby Australia contract after a three-person panel found on Friday that his social media posts warranted his sacking.
He sent Folau a text following the decision to check on his welfare.
“I’m sad for the game and sorry for him and I just really hope he’s OK,” Genia told AAP.
“At the end of the day he’s got feelings, he’s got emotions, he’s got a family and from all the time I’ve spent with him, he loves playing the game and to have that taken away from him, I’m sure he would be really upset.
“With everything that’s happened, he’s lost out on the opportunity to do what he loves and he’s still young and he’s an unbelievable player and he’s not going to be able to play the game anymore and that’s really sad.”
Pollard also said he was disappointed such a talent would be lost.
“Israel is probably one of the best players in the world, not just in Australia,” Pollard said.
“I don’t know all the details about it and I only know him from the locker room but not only an unbelievable talent, but he’s a great guy.
“Hopefully there’s a way we can still see him playing rugby because it’s an absolute treat.”
RA boss Raelene Castle said after the announcement she was confident the threat of a Polynesian player boycott would not eventuate, and Genia agreed.
“I can’t really speak on other people’s behalf but from my perspective, there’s nothing you can really do about it,” Genia said.
“The situation has been dealt with and you’ve just got to move forward.
“As sad as it is, at least there’s been some sort of conclusion to what’s happened and guys can learn from it and move on and do their best to understand why.”