Sydney (AFP) – Australia fullback Israel Folau will return from injury for the NSW Waratahs this weekend in his first match since he caused a storm with anti-gay comments.
Folau hasn’t played since late March, when he came off the field against the ACT Brumbies with a hamstring injury.
The devout Christian, one of Australia’s best known and most marketable players, was criticised when he wrote on social media that God’s plan for gay people was to send them to hell.
Folau escaped a Rugby Australia sanction for his post after a meeting with the governing body, which has an inclusion policy to stop discrimination.
But there was further fall-out, with All Blacks backs TJ Perenara and Brad Weber both speaking out in support of the gay community and New Zealand coach Steve Hansen saying he was proud of their stance.
New Zealand Rugby also released an anti-discrimination video celebrating diversity.
Folau is among three changes to the Waratahs team against the poor-performing Auckland Blues in Sydney on Saturday.
“I’m pleased to see the team have done so well without him (Folau) and it’s great to have him back,” coach Daryl Gibson said on Thursday.
“He brings a lot in terms of a different attacking dimension to us and that four weeks in which he’s been away has been a good opportunity for him to get his body right and get his mind back into footy.”
The Waratahs lead the Australian conference with a 5-1-2 record ahead of the Rebels.