Nigel Owens EXCLUSIVE: ‘My attitude towards Israel Folau and Billy Vunipola as a referee will not change’

Nigel Owens has insisted he will not treat Israel Folau or Billy Vunipola differently on the pitch despite the ongoing backlash over the former’s homophobic social media posts.

One of rugby union’s top referees, who is openly gay, has responded to the developments over the last week, which have seen Folau sacked by Rugby Australia and Vunipola formally warned by Saracens and the RFU.

Last week, 30-year-old full-back Folau posted an image on Instagram that read: “Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators – Hell awaits you.”

Accompanying the picture, he added his own message, writing: “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.”

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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. _______________ Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these , adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19‭-‬21 KJV _______________ Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Acts 2:38 KJV _______________ And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Acts 17:30 KJV _______________

A post shared by Israel Folau (@izzyfolau) on

His comments sparked a huge backlash online, which England star Vunipola then became embroiled in when he ‘liked’ the post – which remains online – and then defended its Christian message.

Folau has since insisted he ‘shared it with love’ but could ‘see the other side of the coin where people’s reactions are the total opposite to how I’m sharing it’.

Folau has previously been warned about similar comments he made on social media last year, and on Monday his contract as an Australia international was terminated.

Welshman Owens, who has refereed more than 150 international matches, joined talkSPORT on Tuesday to offer his reaction to the news.

And, asked if he still respects Folau, he told host Jim White: “I respect that somebody has the right to have that opinion, but I don’t agree with the opinion.

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Israel Folau’s comments drew widespread criticism

“I think, although everybody had the right to have his view, you then have to understand there are consequences when you express a view that can be very, very hurtful to lot of people.

“When you do cross that line of what is acceptable and what is not, particularly when you’re in a position of influence, then you have to take responsibility for your actions.

“But, look, I don’t judge people. I have a job to do on that field and I will just referee what’s in front of me and treat every player on the field the same and with respect.

“That’s all I need to do as a referee and that’s all I will ever do.

“I’ve refereed those players in the past many times and they’ve treated me with respect every time I’ve officiated them.”

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So this morning I got 3 phone calls from people telling me to ‘unlike’ the @izzyfolau post. This is my position on it. I don’t HATE anyone neither do I think I’m perfect. There just comes a point when you insult what I grew up believing in that you just say enough is enough, what he’s saying isn’t that he doesn’t like or love those people. He’s saying how we live our lives needs to be closer to how God intended them to be. Man was made for woman to pro create that was the goal no? I’m not perfect I’m at least everything on that list at least at one point in my life. It hurts to know that. But that’s why I believe there’s a God. To guide and protect us and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

A post shared by Billy Vunipola (@vunipola_billy) on

Owens was speaking to talkSPORT in association with Samaritans, in an honest and open interview about his struggles with mental health and his sexuality.

He explained he respects anyone with religious beliefs, having grown up with religious influences in his life, but added:

“This would be the message from me – I think you should judge people on the person they are, not on the colour of their skin, not on their sexual orientation, not on their religious beliefs or their political views. Just judge somebody on the decent person that they are.

“There are some things in your life you can choose, but sexuality is not one of them.

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Rugby referee Nigel Owens

“I respect people who are brought up with religious beliefs. Some who are entrenched and will follow those religious beliefs no matter how narrow minded they may be to the rest of us, but that is their belief and I understand that and respect that.

“But I also like them to understand and respect that this is who I am.

“I am glad rugby has allowed me to be who I am, that rugby is an inclusive sport for everybody involved in it.

“That, I think, is the important message from the huge majority of people out there in rugby, that it is an inclusive sport for everybody involved with it.

“That’s what we can all learn from this.”

Listen to a clip of Nigel Owens’ exclusive interview with talkSPORT above

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