In Depth

Billy Vunipola given formal warning by RFU over support for Israel Folau

Saracens and England No.8 ‘expressed genuine regret’ at his public comments

England and Saracens star Billy Vunipola has been given a formal warning by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) for defending Israel Folau’s controversial social media posts.

Saying that “hell awaits” homosexuals, Australia full-back Folau posted a picture on Instagram with the words: “Warning: drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators. Hell awaits you - repent! Only Jesus saves.”

In a caption the 30-year-old added: “Those that are living in sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.”

On Monday The Guardian reported that Folau has two days to respond or face the sack after being served with a breach notice by Rugby Australia.

‘No intention to cause suffering’

The BBC says that Saracens No.8 Vunipola liked Folau’s post and called for people to “live their lives how God intended”.

Sky Sports reports that Vunipola did not apologise but acknowledged the “hurt” his comments had caused. In a statement the 26-year-old said: “I can see that my recent post has hurt people. My intention was never to cause suffering. My intention was to express my belief in the word of God.

“These beliefs are a source of great strength, comfort and guidance in my life. This is deeply personal and does not represent the views of my team.

“Anyone who knows me knows I live with kindness and love towards ALL people. I have faith. My Christian faith has sustained me through the ups and many downs of my life.

“God has given and continues to give me many reasons in life to be grateful.”

Saracens warned Vunipola about his support of Folau’s anti-LGBT comments and described it as a “serious error”.

The Premiership club said: “Senior representatives of the club held lengthy discussions with Billy Vunipola regarding his recent social media activity.

“At Saracens we are one family, open to all with the firm view that everyone should be treated equally with respect and humility. We recognise the complexity of different belief systems and understand Billy’s intention was to express the word of God rather than cause offence.

“However, he made a serious error of judgement in publicly sharing his opinion, which is inconsistent with the values of the club and contravenes his contractual obligations. The player has been formally warned about his future conduct.”

Genuine regret

Vunipola has been given a formal warning by the RFU following a meeting between the player and English rugby’s governing body.  

In a statement the RFU said: “Following a meeting between the RFU and Billy Vunipola, the Saracens forward has been issued with a formal warning under RFU rule 5.12 for conduct prejudicial to the interests of the union or the game.

“The warning will be retained on his disciplinary record for a period of five years and may be taken into account in future disciplinary proceedings.

“During the meeting the player expressed genuine regret at his public comments and understood that he had caused hurt and offence as a result of his actions.

“He has been reminded of his responsibilities as an England player and as an ambassador for the game, which values inclusivity and respect.”

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