Australian Super Rugby players from the Melbourne Rebels and the Queensland Reds huddled for a post-match prayer on Friday amid reports of anger among the game's Christians over the handling of the Israel Folau social media furore.
Wallabies fullback Folau, a fundamentalist Christian, moved a step closer to being sacked by Rugby Australia (RA) this week after he was found to have committed a 'high-level' code of conduct breach for a post that said hell awaited 'drunks, homosexuals, adulterers' and others.
The case has upset a number of Folau's Wallabies team mates who share his religious beliefs, with Reds prop Taniela Tupou writing that RA 'might as well sack... all the other Pacific Islands rugby players around the world.'
After smashing into each other for 80 minutes, players from the Rebels and Reds united in a poignant prayer circle following another divisive week in the Israel Folau social media saga.https://t.co/TqzdkOaAqq pic.twitter.com/EftO1s9nw7— RUGBY ARTICLES (@rugbyarticles) May 10, 2019
Sydney newspaper the Daily Telegraph reported earlier on Friday that Reds and Rebels players had proposed to gather for prayer on field at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium in a 'show of solidarity' for Folau.
The proposal followed a report that Folau had reached out to Polynesian players in Australia and Japan asking them to show support in his public stand-off with Rugby Australia.
The report claimed Folau had contacted players at every Australian Super Rugby franchise to support his crusade — and many players reportedly, privately want to follow Folau's lead.
Following the Rebels' 30-24 win over the Reds, players from both sides knelt on the pitch with arms locked in a circle as Reds hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa addressed the group with emotion.
The huddle included a number of Australia players, including Queensland captain Samu Kerevi, his Reds teammate Sefa Naivalu and another Wallabies winger in Melbourne's Marika Koroibete.
It is not unusual for Polynesian players from rival teams to gather together in prayer following on-field battles.
According to Foxsports.com.au, Wallabies great Stephen Hoiles said after the game
"We've seen this before, it happens a lot and probably in the last couple of years it's happened more and more," Hoiles told Fox Sports' The Kick On after the game.
"Whether or not this is specifically for Israel Folau, we won't know but we've seen that before."
Folau faced a three-member panel over three days of hearings. The panel issued its verdict on Tuesday and said it would consider further submissions before issuing a sanction.
The judgement came more than three weeks after RA and Folau's Super Rugby club New South Wales Waratahs said they intended to terminate his four-year contract.
Folau has a right to appeal but a high-level breach would be sufficient for RA and the Waratahs to dismiss the 73-test back.
The offending post, which has attracted 54,000 'likes' and 48,000 comments, remains on Folau's Instagram page.
Meanwhile, Dane Haylett-Petty has done his hopes of taking over the Wallabies fullback jersey from Folau no harm with a starring performance in Melbourne's win over Queensland.
With Folau's World Cup hopes in tatters, the Rebels skipper is one of the leading contenders to wear the No. 15 jersey in Japan later this year. Brumbies fullback Tom Banks has also put his hand up while Kurtley Beale has impressed since taking over from Folau.
The 29-year-old showed poise under pressure to steer the Rebels to a tricky 30-24 win at AAMI Park on Friday night.
Haylett-Petty ran a game high 126m, which was 49m more than any other player, lead the tackle busts with five and also scored a try.
Melbourne coach Dave Wessels said Haylett-Petty was incredibly valuable for the Rebels.
"He's got a real presence with the team," Wessels said.
"He doesn't say a lot but the team gravitate towards him and one of the reasons we've handled pressure situations better is because Dane is there and he navigates the team through it and everyone follows him."