“We’ve spoken but I’m not going to be reading the riot act about things to anybody,” he said.
“I’m going to be reminding guys about what the team is about, what it means to be part of the team and then guys make their decisions from there. Izzy wants to be a part of the team. Not just now, in the future as well.
“There’s a lot of people that think he’s trying to use it as some tactic to get out of playing [rugby]. If he wanted to go he could go easily. He wants to play rugby, he understands that he doesn’t want to affect the team around those things.”
Three more rounds of Super Rugby remain before the June break and Folau has hit his straps on the field after a month sidelined with a hamstring injury. He will be a valuable asset for Australia when Six Nations champions Ireland hit these shores. The Joe Schmidt-coached side are ranked second in the world behind New Zealand and are poised to travel at full strength.
Cheika had not spoken publicly about Folau’s anti-gay comments until this week. He told Fox Sports’ Kick & Chase on Wednesday night that children needed to cultivate enough self-esteem to reject opinions they did not agree with, even if they came from sporting idols like Folau. On Thursday his focus was back on the rugby.
“There’s been a lot of conjecture about it from all different sides, left side, right side, all that type of stuff,” he said.
“We need to be focusing on the footy, right, and getting ourselves clear on what you were talking about – a big series coming up against the northern hemisphere champions. To do that we’ve got to have everyone focused on footy. This has been done, it’s been dealt with now and it’s not going to be ongoing, so it’s not going to be an issue.”
Folau is the Highlanders’ issue this weekend and the Waratahs are expecting an aerial assault on their back three from the Dunedin side at Allianz Stadium on Saturday.
“When they’re on they’re a very dangerous side,” Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said. “They’ve got a lot of threats across the park and when their forwards are giving them that momentum they create space for the likes of [Bernard] Foley, [Kurtley] Beale, Folau and [Taqele] Naiyaravoro.
“It’s a pretty potent sort of a back line they’ve got there and when they achieve those things they look very dangerous. We’re expecting them to be at their best and we have some good plans to counter those threats and make sure they don’t have plenty of opportunities to run the open spaces.”
Mauger named a full-strength side on Thursday, surprising the pundits with Ben Smith at fullback and Aaron Smith at No.9. The New Zealand provinces have agreed to give their All Blacks players two weeks’ rest in the regular season but Mauger said his fullback would sit out their clash with the Reds in the next round.
“Ben’s a little bit different, he had his [six-month] sabbatical last year so he’s had a little bit of time off,” he said.
“We also didn’t play Ben in the [Brisbane Tens], which was a request of the All Blacks, where we potentially could have. So that’s been pretty well managed between ourselves and the All Blacks.”
Georgina Robinson is a Sports Reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald
Morning & Afternoon Newsletter