Waratahs vice-captain and fly-half Bernard Foley revealed that Israel Folau's actions on social media have hurt the team ahead of their crucial clash against the Rebels on Saturday.
Foley gave his view on the Folau saga as the identities of the three panel members on the Code of Conduct tribunal were announced.
He said he had “very brief” contact with Folau via text and when asked about he felt about his long-time team-mate, the pivot said: “Conflicted, I suppose.
“He has hurt the team which is not why we play sport. We are a team and we encourage diversity and everything.
“But I also don’t think Izzy is a bad guy. So there is a lot of conflict there.
“But I don’t agree with what he’s done. It’s a tough situation, so for myself personally it’s a big loss this weekend but we will deal with that. We have trained all week without him and we’re looking forward to going out there and getting the job done.”
Pressed to expand on how Folau had hurt the team, Foley said the focus of success against the Rebels and in Super Rugby had effectively been hijacked.
There has been much speculation about how much support Folau has among his fellow players for his views, particularly among religious Polynesian players.
But the negative impact on a team environment of Folau knowingly dropping such a bomb in the middle of a season can’t be underestimated.
“We are here talking about it now. We are not talking about a game … which we should be,” he said.
“Rugby is an inclusive sport. We want to engage all the diversity we have. We want a team sport that encourages diversity, to be inclusive of all backgrounds and all religions and all faiths.
“Rugby, we support everyone’s beliefs, but you just can’t do it in a manner where you are trying to hurt … people.”
Many have questioned whether the Waratahs can succeed in the Super Rugby competition without one of their major stars – arguably their biggest – but Foley believes they can.
“He’s a special player and someone I played alongside for a number of years now,” Foley said.
“But as a team it comes down to how we perform as a team, not as individuals. I think we have the depth in this side to be able to cope with that.
“I have really enjoyed training this week in terms of how guys have rallied around each other, and galvanised together and are looking forward to this challenge.”
The independent panel will be Kate Eastman SC (Rugby Australia appointed), John Boultbee (Rugby Union Players Association appointed) and chair John West QC. The date of the hearing has yet to be confirmed.
West is a prominent Sydney barrister and mediator at Selborne Chambers, and has been involved in numerous high profile corporate disputes for many decades.
Eastman is a also a leading Sydney silk, with an expertise in “employment, discrimination, human rights, professional conduct, international law and public law”.
Boultbee is a long-time Australian sporting administrator who was RUPA’s appointee on the 2014 Code of Conduct hearing panel that saw Kurtley Beale avoid getting the axe – as requested by the ARU – over the Di Patston affair.