Folau saga: McKenzie in ARU corner

Sun, 13 Apr 2014 08:44
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The ugly public spat between the Waratahs and the ARU over Rugby League convert Israel Folau took another nasty turn.

The ugly public spat between the Waratahs and the Australian Rugby Union over Rugby League convert Israel Folau took another nasty turn.

Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie has joined the ARU corner, after Waratahs coach Michael Cheika spat the dummy again at the weekend - when the national body stepped in to prevent the injured star from playing in a Super Rugby match against the Western Force.

McKenzie said the ARU were correct to withdraw Folau from the clash against the Force in Perth, due to concerns about the player's safety.

The ARU decision caused an outcry - with Folau expressing his frustration and disappointment, while Cheika was left fuming as the Waratahs slumped to a 16-28 loss in Perth.

"Everyone wants him to play, but in the end you've got to consider the player's welfare," McKenzie told host broadcaster Fox Sports.

"Obviously, by Thursday when information became available, the ARU got involved at that point and it wasn't deemed that he was ready to play.

"In the interest of the welfare of Israel and nothing else a decision was made."

Folau also took issue with the ARU for not consulting with him directly about his health.

McKenzie conceded that the process would be reviewed after Cheika said the ARU had breached protocols by conducting their own medical analysis without briefing the team.

"We will review the process, both sides of the process," McKenzie added.

"We've heard one side of it. We have been involved in the process the last couple of weeks.

"There's been lots of phone calls between doctors. Who talks to the player? How many people talk to the player? How many people talk to the specialist? We'll review all that.

"In the end the only motivating factor here is the best interest of Izzy. That's why the decision was made."

Folau said he is "frustrated and disappointed" by the ARU decision.

Folau missed the last two Super Rugby games in South Africa, but was named in the Waratahs team to play Western Force.

He expected to play after saying he got the go ahead by a specialist in Perth earlier this week and from NSW team doctor Sharron Flahive.

The ARU's chief medical officer Warren McDonald made the decision on Friday after getting specialist advice on the throat injury.

"Obviously I'm very disappointed and frustrated at this stage, but the ARU have made a decision and I'm not happy with it," Folau told Fox Sports.

"I'm very confused at this stage. I've spoken to Sharron and the specialist that I've seen here in Perth this week.

"They said that I was good to go, with the risk that I was well aware of, but obviously the ARU have stepped in and I'm very disappointed.

"I haven't had any contact with the ARU medical staff this whole week.

"In this whole situation I think I'm the most important person they've got to contact and I haven't spoken to any of them, so in terms of that, I'm very disappointed."

McDonald said in a statement the ARU would continue to work on a "plan" to get Folau back as soon as possible, but the 25-year-old was left with no idea when that might be.

"After seeing the different specialists that I've seen, there's no timeline for the throat [injury to heal]," said Folau, who had scored eight tries in four Super Rugby matches prior to his injury.

"Who knows? It might be six months or whatever ... I just don't know. Just the advice that the specialists have said to me, this could be an injury that could take that long. If you want to make it 100 percent, I'm just saying it could take that long."

The ARU's determination to wrap Folau in cotton wool underlines his status as Australia's most prized asset, as both a proven match-winner at international level and pin-up boy for a football code struggling for relevance in the country's saturated sports market.

That resolve may be tested by the Wallabies' upcoming three-Test series against France in June, however.

Cheika told the media in Perth the ARU had breached protocols by conducting their own medical analysis without notifying the Waratahs in advance and bristled at the suggestion his team had been prepared to risk the player's safety.

"When every rugby player runs out on to the field there's a risk," the 47-year-old said.

"The reality is that we felt, and we do still feel, that we did everything correctly.

"I'm disappointed that there isn't faith in the way we do things."

Cheika said the ARU had contacted a specialist earlier in the week without the team's knowledge but sat back as Folau participated in full training sessions on Tuesday and Thursday.

"Sometimes, for a guy in his position, full contact is more regular in training than you will have in a game," he added.

"I don't think [this] has ever happened, full-stop. I certainly haven't seen it before."

The controversial decision robbed the Waratahs of their most dangerous attacking player for a tough away match against a team riding a four-game winning streak.

Cheika, who coached Irish club Leinster to their maiden Heineken Cup triumph in 2009, said Folau's fate was now out of the Waratahs' hands.

"There's nothing for us to do now," he said.

"If we felt he's fit to play this week, then he's fit to play next week. The ball's well and truly in their court now. They're taken charge of it, so there's nothing we can do really."

Source: Fox Sports & Reuters