Hansen defends Folau's World XV selection

World XV coach Steve Hansen has welcomed the decision to raise the rainbow flag above Twickenham for their game against the Barbarians on Sunday after he named Israel Folau in his squad.

Folau, an evangelical Christian, had his Wallabies contract terminated in 2019 after he posted a meme on social media that said "hell" awaits homosexual people and other groups. He then returned to international rugby last year with Tonga.

British media reported that England's Rugby Football Union (RFU) will respond to Folau's selection with a show of support for the LGBTQ+ community by flying the rainbow flag.

The RFU then released a statement Wednesday acknowledging the anxiety that members of the LGBTQ+ community might feel with anti-gay "viewpoints" being present on the Twickenham turf.

"We want rugby to be a game of opportunity, where all receive a warm welcome, regardless of background or experience," said Tom Ilube, RFU chairperson. "Yet as we approach Pride month, it is important to acknowledge that people from the LGBTQ+ community continue to face discrimination and exclusion in all walks of life, sport included.

"The Barbarians have often made Twickenham their home over its 130+ year history. But we understand that many people from the LGBTQ+ community and their allies feel unwelcome and disheartened by the appeared acceptance of anti-LGBTQ+ viewpoints on the pitch.

"That is why the RFU wants to acknowledge this anxiety and is reflecting on the importance of Pride; of everyone having the right to exist as their true selves, and of feeling connected and united through rugby."

Hansen however said Folau warranted selection because of his deeds on the pitch and backed the RFU's decision to fly the Pride flag in response.

"It's a consequence of Folau's selection and I think it's a good thing. It's an opportunity to show support to that flag. I don't have a problem with it," said Hansen.

"There wouldn't be one there if Israel wasn't playing, so whenever we can bring attention to people who are suffering in a positive way, that's good.

"They deserve to be loved and cared for as much as anybody else. If we all did that, it'd be a happy place, wouldn't it?"

Hansen, who led the All Blacks to the World Cup in 2015, said some people might be hurt by his decision to pick Folau but added that he does not agree with the player's views.

"He's a rugby player first and foremost and he's been sanctioned," he said. "Those sanctions have finished, he's playing rugby, he's probably going to go to the World Cup, so my job is to pick the best team and that's what I've done."

Folau's selection comes amid the release of a two-part documentary from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation which goes inside the saga that saw him sacked and then later settle with Rugby Australia.