Billy Vunipola is set to face disciplinary action from both England and Saracens for showing support to a social media post by Australian star Israel Folau in which he said "hell awaits" gay people.
The Rugby Football Union said it will speak to the nation's first choice number eight for apparently writing a defence to a homophobic Instagram post published by Folau. Rugby Australia have already said they intend to terminate Folau's contract, effectively ruling him out of this autumn's World Cup.
In an apparent defence of his fellow Christian's view, Vunipola has liked Folau's post and states on his own account that "Man was made for woman to pro create that was the goal no?"
The 26-year-old is now facing the possibility of being charged with conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game under the union's Rule 5.12 in its code of conduct. The RFU said in a statement that it will be talking to Vunipola: "Rugby is an inclusive sport, and we do not support these views. We will be meeting with Billy to discuss his social media posts."
Vunipola's full Instagram post was "liked" by fellow England internationals Manu Tuilagi, Courtney Lawes and Nick Isiekwe. Lawes has since expressed support for Vunipola's right to express his opinion. "I don't have a faith like yourself brother so I don't share the same views in this matter but I do believe you should be able to voice your own opinions and belief as you see fit," he wrote on Instagram.
Saracens, however, moved to distance the club from the comments, saying they "proudly embrace diversity". "Our sport is open to all and we strive for it to be free from all forms of discrimination," a statement said. 'We recognise that people have different belief systems and we expect everyone to be treated equally with respect and humility. As representatives and role models, Saracens players have a responsibility not only to themselves but to the Club and wider society. Billy Vunipola's recent social media posts are inconsistent with this and we take this matter very seriously. It will be handled internally."
Vunipola has been named on the bench for Saracens' Gallagher Premiership match against Bristol on Saturday. Premiership Rugby also expressed condemnation. "Inclusivity is one of the core values of Premiership Rugby and we condemn any behaviour that encourages discrimination," said a spokeswoman. "We are committed - with the RFU - to keeping rugby in England inclusive and some of the highlighted social media posts over the last day or so are in opposition to this. We were delighted to support Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign earlier in the season and welcome the opportunity to continue that next season."
Both posts remain visible on the players' accounts with rugby league-bound Luther Burrell among those to have liked Vunipola's entry, which the 26-year-old is refusing to delete.
"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," the Saracens back row said. "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."
Vunipola's mother is Reverend Iesinga Vunipola, a Methodist Minister, and the player has repeatedly spoken of the strength he draws from his faith.
The Rugby Players' Association, which represents over 1,200 current and former professional rugby players from a broad range of backgrounds, also spoke out against the posts.
"While we acknowledge an individual's right to their own beliefs, the RPA do not support the views expressed in Billy Vunipola's recent social media post," a statement said. "We are firmly against any form of discrimination and believe rugby should be an inclusive sport where everybody is welcome, regardless of their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. We will be making no further comment on this matter."
Stonewall, who campaign for the equality of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people across Britain, said: "Faith is often used to justify anti-LGBT views and attitudes. This is wrong and perpetuates a myth that faith and LGBT inclusion cannot coexist."