Israel Folau has been sacked by Rugby Australia and, barring a stunning turn of events, will never play a game of professional rugby union in Australia again.

Friday's confirmation of the sanction raises two questions: How do the Wallabies replace their best player ahead of the Rugby World Cup in six months, and what happens next regarding Folau's case?

The Wallabies

Almost forgotten given the ongoing legal proceedings in the Folau case is how much his exit will affect the Wallabies.

Michael Cheika has spent the last six years game-planning around Folau first with the Waratahs and since 2015 with the national side, using Folau's unparalleled abilities under the high ball to full effect.

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Folau has been Australia's full-back in 63 of the 92 Tests that have taken place since he first made his debut in 2013.

He is now also the highest try scorer in Super Rugby history with 60, breaking Doug Howlett's long-held record in what has turned out to be Folau's final game of Super Rugby. Only David Campese and Chris Latham have scored more tries for Australia than Folau's 37.

The rather stark figures below, courtesy of Opta, underline just how dominant a figure Folau has been in Australia's attack since his Test debut.

Israel Folau stats. Photo / The Telegraph
Israel Folau stats. Photo / The Telegraph

Cheika last year used Dane Haylett-Petty throughout the the Rugby Championship and against Wales in the autumn, with the Melbourne Rebels back seeming to be the best option.

Other candidates include Haylett-Petty's teammate at the Rebels, Reece Hodge, and in-form Brumbies fullback Tom Banks.

Kurtley Beale could also revert to fullback, where he has not started a Test for Austrlalia since the 2017 defeat at Murrayfield against Scotland.

Bottom line though: Australia have lost their best attacker, and a game-changing talent, with a Rugby World Cup now on the horizon.

The case

Folau can lodge an appeal against the sanction within 72 hours of receiving the judgement.

Folau said in a statement following the news that he was considering his options and that he is "deeply saddened" by the decision, suggesting that an appeal is likely to follow.

Given the three-person independent panel of John West QC (Chair), Kate Eastman SC and John Boultbee AM all found Folau guilty of a high-level breach of the Code of Conduct, the chances of that appeal proving successful would appear slim at this stage.

Folau also reportedly rejected a $1 million settlement offer from Rugby Australia during the hearing process to walk away from the game - worth a quarter of the deal he signed with RA last year - suggesting that his issue is not about the money. In a recent sermon at his church, Folau described that financial proposal as an offer from Satan.

According to Australia's Telegraph reporter Jamie Pandaram, Folau's next move could be to bypass the appeals process altogether and take his case to the Supreme Court.

An example of the argument Folau might present was part of his statement on Friday following the sanction.

"As Australians, we are born with certain rights, including the right to freedom of religion and the right to freedom of expression," said Folau. "The Christian faith has always been a part of my life and I believe it is my duty as a Christian to share God's word. Upholding my religious beliefs should not prevent my ability to work or play for my club and country."

It's official: Israel Folau has been sacked by Rugby Australia. Photo / Photosport
It's official: Israel Folau has been sacked by Rugby Australia. Photo / Photosport

Should Folau opt to take the matter to a higher court it would come at a further enormous financial cost to Rugby Australia and also personally to Folau, unless he is able to secure financial backing from various Christian organisations. And without any real indication that Folau would be successful.

It would also be a significant departure from Folau's revelation last year, after the first incident, that he had informed RA chief executive Raelene Castle he would walk away from the sport if his position became untenable.

"We all aware that there are laws that protect people from discrimination. In this case, however, we have competing rights, Israel Folau's protection from discrimination on the grounds of religious belief and protection of fans and the public generally from sexual orientation discrimination," Ruby Dinsmore, an employment lawyer from Slater and Gordon informed Telegraph Sport.

"The difficulties for courts is ensuring that these rights are equally protected and that no right for instance to hold a religious belief takes precedence over the right not be subjected to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This has been a difficult balancing act for the courts and tribunals and has often led to creative rulings to ensure no perceived hierarchy of rights emerges.

"I very much doubt whether the Supreme Court would ever say the right to express religious views takes precedence over whether or not a gay person feels offended or discriminated against by that view, or vice-versa, that gay people's rights are protected more than the right for someone who holds particularly fundamental religious views to be free to express them without discrimination.

"The courts and tribunals seek to find ways to move away from 'this right' versus 'that right'. They will look at the other factors involved and the motivations behind the actions to determine what was a reasonable course of action in the circumstances.

"In doing this, they will look into the specific circumstances of the case, which enables them to state that with a different set of circumstances the ruling would likely be different and so avoid a perceived hierarchy of rights developing."

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle speaks after the termination of Israel Folau's contract. Photo / AP
Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle speaks after the termination of Israel Folau's contract. Photo / AP

Timeline: How the Israel Folau saga unfolded

September 2017:

Folau confirms on Twitter that he will not support a vote for gay marriage in Australia. "I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions. but personally, I will not support gay marriage," he wrote on Twitter. Rugby Australia publicly supported the vote, which passed.

April 2018: Folau posts an image referencing James 1: 2-4 on his Instagram. A comment in response asks Folau: 'what was gods plan for gay people??' Folau replies: 'HELL...unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.'

Rugby Australia distance themselves from Folau's comments but do not sanction Folau. "I think Israel has acknowledged that maybe he could have put a positive spin on that same message and done it in a more respectful way," says RA chief executive Raelene Castle.

Folau explains his reply to the question on Instagram in a PlayersVoice column, stating he is not homophobic or a bigot and revealing that he had offered to walk away from the sport.

I told Raelene if she felt the situation had become untenable – that I was hurting Rugby Australia, its sponsors and the Australian rugby community to such a degree that things couldn't be worked through – I would walk away from my contract, immediately.
April 2019: Two posts on social media by Folau lead to widespread criticism. Folau tweets a screenshot of an article discussing the decision by Tasmania to make gender optional on birth certificates. Folau writes: "The devil has blinded so many people in this world, REPENT and turn away from your evil ways. Turn to Jesus Christ who will set you free."

A post on Instagram states: 'WARNING Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters HELL AWAITS YOU Repent! Only Jesus Saves'

RA chief Castle and New South Wales chief executive Andrew Hore announced that both parties intend to cancel Folau's contract "in the absence of compelling mitigating factors".

May 2019: Folau requests a code of conduct hearing after RA and NSW confirm they plan to terminate his contract. A three-person independent panel find Folau is guilty of a high-level break of Rugby Australia's Code of Conduct and that this $4m contract should be torn up.

The sanction is confirmed on May 17. Folau announces in a statement that he is considering his options, adding: "Upholding my religious beliefs should not prevent my ability to work or play for my club and country."