Broken Tahs admit huge cost of Folau debacle
AS their season coughed and spluttered to an embarrassing finish, the Waratahs finally admitted to the toll of the Israel Folau saga which crippled their hopes this year.
All season long, the Waratahs have been biting their lip about the damage Folau's case has had on the team and the game of rugby, but no longer.
With the Waratahs now out of the playoff race, barring a slim mathematical chance in this weekend's final round, the players have finally spoken up about the price they've paid during the season from hell.
"We wanted to be making finals at the Waratahs this year and we haven't really been given that opportunity to make it," NSW halfback Nick Phipps said.
After going into the season with genuine hopes of winning the title after making the semi-finals last year, the Waratahs won just three of their eight matches after Folau was stood down.
Phipps said the players and the coaches had tried their best not to let the saga distract them, but having to constantly field questions while Folau was in hiding left them feeling they were the ones on trial.
"It's something that's distracted us from our goal this year to be making finals," he said.
"It's disappointing that I'm watching the game that I love be picked apart for the last eight months.
"There's so many good stories out there about rugby union and we're not getting to talk about them."
Hooker Damien Fitzpatrick said a lot of the players had conflicting views about whether Folau deserved to be fired with plenty sharing his religious faith but everyone had agreed to accept each other's right to hold different opinions to keep the team together.
And while the players recognise the huge public interest in the case, they were still annoyed it had overshadowed everything they were doing on the field.
"At certain times it's really difficult," Fitzpatrick said. "Particularly after a win when you want to come in and potentially talk to you guys (media) about a good result and something pops up (about Folau).
"Obviously you guys are just doing your job covering the story but we end up trying to talk about something else so it can be frustrating."
It happened again on Saturday night. Just hours before facing the Brumbies in a derby match the Waratahs had to win, Folau sent an angry letter to the directors of Rugby Australia that stole the spotlight from the game.
Former Wallaby and Fox Sports commentator Rod Kafer lashed out at Folau, urging him to honour a promise he made last year that he would never intentionally harm the sport that had paid him millions of dollars.
"Israel, you're damaging the game," Kafer said.
"At some point you've got to live the words that you say with action. He should walk away."