Israel Folau. (Photo by Matt Roberts / Getty Images)
International double code Israel Folau, who was sacked by Rugby Australia in 2019 for saying “hell awaits” gay men, will play club rugby in Japan next season, it was announced on Monday.
Folau signed with the Bright arcs from NTT Communications in the first domestic competition at the start of its new season in January 2022, the Japan Rugby Football Union announced.
At his new club, based in Chiba near Tokyo, he will be coached by Rob Penney, who was sacked by the Waratahs in March after a nightmarish five-game losing start to the AU Super Rugby season.
Folau was released “with immediate effect” by the Catalans Dragons rugby team last week.
The 32-year-old had informed the club that he wanted to stay in Australia for what the Dragons called a “personal family situation”, and also play for small town club Southport Tigers alongside his two brothers.
His drive to join Southport is backed by billionaire mining billionaire Clive Palmer, who has threatened legal action against anyone who challenges Folau’s right to gamble.
Folau – an ardent Christian – was a star player in the NRL early in his career, then switched to rugby union after an unsuccessful stint playing Australian rules.
He scored 37 tries in 73 rugby union tests for the Wallabies before being dumped by a social media post warning that “hell awaits” homosexuals and others he considers sinners.
His comments drew a harsh rebuke from Japanese captain Michael Leitch, who called them “outrageous” in a video posted to social media in April 2019.
“It’s so bad on so many levels,” Leitch said then.
“I respect your religion and what you believe in, but using social media to almost preach your views – it connects to so many people, and not everyone is the same.”
“It’s a real stab in the heart,” added Leitch, who will face Folau next season.
Rugby Australia’s sacking of Folau sparked a long-running legal dispute which was ultimately settled when they made a multimillion dollar out-of-court payment.
Folau said he was “vindicated” by the settlement, after challenging his dismissal under laws that prohibit dismissals because of a person’s religion.
He returned to the league in February of last year with the Dragons.
In his latest battle, Folau this month filed for a Supreme Court injunction against the Queensland Rugby League (QRL) in an attempt to resume his career in Australia, saying his refusal to register him amounted to a restriction on trade.
The Japanese National League has attracted several big names in recent years, with All Black Beauden Barrett and Wallabies captain Michael Hooper among those playing there last season.
Folau will play alongside former Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw at NTT.