Australia international Israel Folau remains unrepentant about his controversial social media posts and is willing to stop playing rugby if that is "God's will".

The devout Christian sparked outrage this week with an anti-homosexual post and caused a stir with his stance on the Tasmanian Parliament passing a legislation to make gender optional on birth certificates and allow people 16 years and older to legally change gender without parental contest.

Folau posted a message on Instagram that stated "hell awaits" drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters, along with "REPENT! ONLY JESUS SAVES".

Last year, the Waratahs full-back avoided punishment for a similar statement in which he said homosexuals should go to "hell" unless they "repent their sins and turn to God".

But Rugby Australia responded to his latest posts by stating their intention to terminate his contract and he has been stood down by the Waratahs until further notice.

Breaking his silence to the Sydney Morning Herald, Folau insists he would have no qualms about quitting the sport.

"Absolutely [I'd walk away]," Folau said. "First and foremost, I live for God now. Whatever He wants me to do, I believe His plans for me are better than whatever I can think.

"If that's not to continue on playing, so be it. In saying that, obviously I love playing footy and if it goes down that path I'll definitely miss it. But my faith in Jesus Christ is what comes first."

Folau was guarded on whether he would pursue a legal case for religious discrimination against Rugby Australia if his contract is torn up.

"It's obviously a decision that's in the process right now but I believe in a God that's in control of all things," Folau added.

"Whatever His will is, whether that's to continue playing or not, I'm more than happy to do what He wants me to do."

While Folau's comments have been widely condemned, he insists he does regret his stance.

"I'll stand on what the Bible says. I share it with love. I can see the other side of the coin where people's reactions are the total opposite to how I'm sharing it," he continued.

"But in Ezekiel, chapter 33, verse 11, it says that 'God has no pleasure in the person that's living in sin'. He's a loving God and he wants people to turn away from what they're living in and he'll give them life.

"That's the message that I'm trying to share, even though it comes across as harsh. I can't change what the word of God says."

Haseeb Hameed made his first County Championship century since 2016 to boost his hopes of earning an England recall for this year's Ashes.

The batsman was horribly out of form last season, averaging 9.7 as Lancashire suffered relegation in first-class cricket, but followed up a recent double century against Loughborough MCCU by passing three figures against Middlesex in his county's first Division Two fixture of 2019.

Hameed, who made his England debut in India in November 2016 aged 19 but suffered a finger injury in his third Test appearance, reached the milestone with a pulled six off paceman Toby Roland-Jones.

But the 22-year-old was dismissed for 117, caught and bowled by Dawid Malan after leading Lancashire towards a first-innings lead at Lord's.

Keaton Jennings, another England opener aiming to earn an Ashes chance this year, made 52 in a 123-run partnership with Hameed for the first wicket.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) is seeking a meeting with Billy Vunipola after his defence of Israel Folau's latest controversial social media posts.

Folau is set to be sacked by Rugby Australia after the Wallabies and Waratahs star sparked outrage with his opinions on homosexuality and gender this week.

The full-back, who escaped punishment for similar statements last year, was widely criticised but had support from England international Vunipola on Friday.

Vunipola took to his own Instagram account to explain why he had 'liked' Folau's post, claiming his beliefs had been insulted but that he did not "hate" anyone.

He said: "Man was made for woman to procreate - that was the goal, no?"

The RFU stated the body does not agree with Vunipola's comments, with the issue to be discussed with the player.

"Rugby is an inclusive sport, and we do not support these views," a spokesperson said. "We will be meeting with Billy to discuss his social media posts."

Vunipola's club side Saracens also released a statement, promising to take the matter "very seriously".

"Saracens proudly embraces diversity and warmly welcomes everyone to the club regardless of race, gender, religion and sexual orientation," it read.

"Our sport is open to all and we strive for it to be free from all forms of discrimination.

"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."

England international Billy Vunipola has offered a defence of Israel Folau's latest controversial social media posts.

Rugby Australia announced plans to sack Folau after the Wallabies and Waratahs full-back sparked outrage with his opinions on homosexuality and gender this week.

Folau posted a message on Instagram that said "hell awaits" drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters along with "REPENT! ONLY JESUS SAVES". He had avoided punishment last year after stating homosexuals should go to "hell" unless they "repent their sins and turn to God".

The dual-code international also caused a stir with his stance on the passing of legislation in Tasmania that makes gender optional on birth certificates and allows people 16 years and older to legally change gender without parental approval.

Vunipola took to his own Instagram account on Friday to explain why he had 'liked' Folau's post, claiming his beliefs had been insulted but that he did not "hate" anyone.

"So this morning I got 3 phone calls from people telling me to 'unlike' the Izzy Folau post," Vunipola wrote alongside a picture of a Bible passage.

"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 procreate - 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."

According to reports in Australia, Folau has been stood down by the Waratahs until further notice. 

Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Rugby Union have met with Israel Folau following his latest controversial social media posts.

The Australia and Waratahs full-back sparked outrage with his opinions on homosexuality and gender earlier this week. He had avoided punishment for similar statements last year.

Rugby Australia responded with a statement, revealing that it had not been able to contact Folau about the "unacceptable" comments.

The union added that it planned to sack the player "in the absence of compelling mitigating factors".

A meeting with Folau followed on Friday and the NSW Rugby Union stated that the discussion would be relayed to board members to "consider next steps" but its position "is unchanged".

"Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union have met with Israel Folau in Sydney today," a statement read.

"As the meeting was held in confidence between the player and his employers, Rugby Australia and the NSW Rugby Union will not comment on the discussions at the meeting.

"Following today's meeting, the two organisations will update their respective boards on the matter to consider next steps. Our joint position regarding Israel Folau is unchanged."

Folau posted a message on Instagram that stated "hell awaits" drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters along with "REPENT! ONLY JESUS SAVES".

He 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."

Folau also caused a stir with his stance on the passing of legislation in Tasmania that makes gender optional on birth certificates and allows people 16 years and older to legally change gender without parental contest.

He tweeted: "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."

Cricket West Indies (CWI) has announced Floyd Reifer will take over as interim head coach from Richard Pybus as part of a shake-up announced by new president Ricky Skerritt.

Pybus was placed in temporary charge earlier this year and oversaw a famous home Test-series victory over England.

However, Skerritt confirmed on Thursday that Reifer will resume a role he undertook during the Windies' tour of Bangladesh last year.

It was also announced that Robert Haynes will replace Courtney Browne as interim head of selectors.

"In the midst of change, we have no doubt that our West Indian players, led expertly by Jason Holder, will be well prepared going to the World Cup," Skerritt said via a statement on CWI's official website.

"What we are now enforcing ahead of the upcoming World Cup is a new approach to strategic thinking while reviving authentic West Indian team spirit. 

"Former West Indies captain and award-winning coach, Floyd Reifer, has therefore been chosen as the interim head coach of the men's senior team because he has lived the same principles West Indian excellence that we now insist must prevail in our cricket.

"Up to the end of 2018 Floyd Reifer had been identified as the outstanding emerging local coach. He displayed this by leading the West Indies A team successfully, including victories against the England Lions, and ended the past year by coaching the senior men's team to a T20 series win in Bangladesh. 

"I have no doubt that coach Reifer is the right man at the right time."

On Haynes' appointment, he added: "[Haynes] is the most experienced and best suited for this responsibility at this time. 

"We are confident that in Mr Haynes we have found an interim chairman who shares the philosophy of inclusiveness and therefore believes in our new selection policy. 

"Because of his impressive track record of good relations with players and past players, we have no doubt that Mr Haynes will engage with players everywhere, strictly in the interest of what is best for West Indian cricket."

England scrum-half Dan Robson will miss three months as he recovers from deep vein thrombosis, his club side Wasps have confirmed.

Robson pulled out of England's final Six Nations match against Scotland last month and has not featured for the Premiership side since.

A Wasps statement confirmed Robson will play no further part in 2018-19 but he should return to training in July – two months before England's Rugby World Cup campaign in Japan.

"Dan Robson unfortunately developed a deep vein thrombosis," Wasps' statement read. 

"He is undergoing treatment which is expected to conclude following three months. 

"This means he will not be available for selection for Wasps for the remainder of the season, however it should enable him to be available for selection for the World Cup preparations."

England coach Eddie Jones will hope both Robson and first-choice number nine Ben Youngs, who will miss the rest of Leicester Tigers' season with a shoulder injury, can quickly regain fitness ahead of the World Cup.

Rugby Australia intends to terminate Israel Folau's contract following his latest controversial social media posts.

The Australia and Waratahs full-back sparked further outrage with his opinions on homosexuality and gender on Wednesday.

Folau avoided punishment last year after stating homosexuals should go to "hell" unless they "repent their sins and turn to God".

Rugby Australia described devout Christian Folau's latest posts as "unacceptable" and revealed on Thursday it plans to sack the 30-year-old but has not been able to contact him.

The Wallabies' major sponsor Qantas said it is awaiting the outcome of Rugby Australia's review after condemning Israel Folau's controversial comments.

Wallabies and Waratahs star Folau – a devout Christian – sparked outrage following a series of social media posts on Wednesday, delivering another anti-homosexual post.

Folau – who avoided punishment last year after stating homosexuals should go to "hell" unless they "repent their sins and turn to God" – caused a stir with his stance on the Tasmanian Parliament passing a legislation to make gender optional on birth certificates and allow people 16 years and older to legally change gender without parental contest.

Rugby Australia released a statement late on Wednesday, which read: "Rugby Australia is aware of a post made by Israel Folau on his Instagram account this afternoon.

"The content within the post is unacceptable. It does not represent the values of the sport and is disrespectful to members of the Rugby community.

"The Rugby Australia Integrity Unit has been engaged on the matter tonight."

And on Thursday, Australian airline Qantas – who threatened to withdraw its sponsorship last year following similar posts made by Folau – weighed in on the controversy.

"These comments are really disappointing and clearly don't reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support," the statement read.

"We are pleased to see Rugby Australia's condemnation of the comments and will await the outcome of their review."

Cameron Bancroft hopes to impress Australia's selectors and earn a Test recall in the future as he looks to move on from the ball-tampering scandal.

Bancroft was banned for nine months after admitting to trying to alter the condition of the ball during Australia's third Test against South Africa in 2018.

The 26-year-old made his return to action in the Big Bash League last December and will spend the next few months with Durham in the County Championship.

Bancroft will captain Durham in the second tier this season, a decision that was met with some surprise given his involvement in the scandal that also saw Australia team-mates Steve Smith and David Warner suspended for 12 months.

Smith and Warner are expected to make their international comebacks ahead of the Cricket World Cup, with the plan to see them return to Test cricket at the Ashes later in 2019.

When Bancroft could add to his eight Test caps remains unclear, but he hopes that it will happen one day.

"The aspiration to play Test cricket is certainly in my mind and where I'd love to be one day. But I also can't be there. I'm here right now," he told reporters ahead of Durham's home match with Sussex.

"[Playing for Australia] would mean a lot to me, definitely. But I also know that I've got a lot of great things in my life

"Even just playing club cricket back home in Perth, it's a game I felt like where you get self-absorbed and single-minded in your pursuits to achieve things.

"At the forefront is just the enjoyment of it all. If I do that then I know the results will take care of themselves. Hopefully it will happen one day."

Bancroft says he grew up during his time out of the game and believes there have been some positives to come out of what happened.

He added: "We all make mistakes and I guess it's how you're able to grow as a person, in admitting and being honest with yourself about those mistakes.

"I certainly have been and as a person that's something that I'm completely accountable for. I wouldn't have it any other way.

"I've learned a lot about myself, I think being able to take time to detach myself from cricket was something that I found a lot of joy in.

"Turning that event from South Africa into a positive was something I was really proud of and to have that opportunity to grow as a person, you'd be silly not to take those steps forward."

Virat Kohli has become the first player to be crowned the world's leading cricketer for a third successive year by Wisden.

The cricketing almanack annually recognises the top players across all formats of the game, and once again Kohli has been named as the world's best.

During 2018, India captain Kohli scored five Test hundreds and amassed an impressive 1,322 runs – 299 more than any other player.

Across all three formats Kohli scored 2,735 runs, with 1,202 of them coming in ODIs – the 30-year-old averaging 133.55 in the 50-over format.

Smriti Mandhana claimed the women's leading player award, completing a clean sweep for India, while Afghanistan spinner Rashid Khan is the top Twenty20 player for a second year in a row.

Meanwhile, Kohli has also been named as one of Wisden's five cricketers of the year, where he is joined by England quartet Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran and Tammy Beaumont – who scored a 47-ball T20 hundred against South Africa at Taunton in June.

Australia and Waratahs full-back Israel Folau could be set for another showdown with Rugby Australia bosses after sparking outrage with more controversial social media posts on Wednesday.

Folau avoided punishment last year after stating homosexuals should go to "hell" unless they "repent their sins and turn to God".

Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle spoke of the importance of using social media in a respectful manner after meeting the 30-year-old following his initial outbursts.

Folau has delivered another anti-homosexual post and caused a stir with his stance on the Tasmanian Parliament passing a legislation to make gender optional on birth certificates and allow people 16 years and older to legally change gender without parental contest.

The devout Christian posted a message on Instagram that stated "hell awaits" drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters along with "REPENT! ONLY JESUS SAVES".

He 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."

Folau also weighed in with his position on the gender debate.

He tweeted a link to a story on legislation being passed in Tasmania and wrote: "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."

Uncapped back-row Akira Ioane has been included in an extended New Zealand squad for a foundation day ahead of the international season - but there is no place for Ma'a Nonu.

Ioane was one of 41 players named on Tuesday, along with his brother and prolific wing Rieko Ioane.

However, there was no place for veteran centre Nonu in a squad that will assemble for a gathering in Wellington on April 15.

All North Island-based players will meet up again on May 20 in Auckland, while those on the South Island will gather in Christchurch on June 3.

New Zealand Rugby head of high performance Mike Anthony revealed the dates had been chosen during a meeting with Super Rugby coaches and All Blacks management last year.

"Given the All Blacks have an incredibly short lead-in time to the upcoming international season, culminating in the Rugby World Cup, and with there being no camps during the Super Rugby season, the foundation days will provide an opportunity for All Blacks management and our leading players to start building towards what is a huge year ahead," he said.

 

New Zealand squad:

Forwards: Dane Coles, Liam Coltman, Nathan Harris, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Nepo Laulala, Tyrel Lomax, Joe Moody, Angus Ta'avao, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Jackson Hemopo, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Vaea Fifita, Shannon Frizell, Akira Ioane, Kieran Read, Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Matt Todd, Luke Whitelock.
 
Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo'unga, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Ngani Laumape, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Waisake Naholo, Ben Smith.
 

New Zealand flanker Sam Cane has been given the green light to resume contact training with the Chiefs, six months after breaking his neck.

Cane underwent surgery after suffering a fracture in a vertebra on the lower-right side of his neck during the All Blacks' victory over South Africa in Pretoria last October.

Chiefs coach Colin Cooper revealed on Tuesday that Cane has taken another big step in his recovery.

"He had a little bit of contact yesterday and we'll manage him through some contact in the next two weeks and take it from there," Cooper said.

"It's exciting for him and he's excited to be back. It's been a tough journey for him but, as the co-captain, he's been playing a key part and making sure there's accountability and some honesty among us coaches and the players."

Cooper added: "[We will consider] if we put him into some club rugby to get more confidence, or do we bring him off the bench? It's all about managing him through that."

England captain Joe Root is "fine" after taking a blow to his left hand late on day three of Yorkshire's County Championship fixture at Nottinghamshire.

Root was struck by a Joe Clarke drive with three overs remaining at Trent Bridge on Sunday and left the pitch for medical attention.

However, Yorkshire head coach Andrew Gale quickly allayed any fears of serious damage when speaking to Sky Sports at the close of play.

"No, he's fine. He's just strapped it up, just icing it up," he said.

"It was just precautionary really, he'll be fine for tomorrow [Monday]."

Nottinghamshire closed day three on 329-5 in their second innings, a lead of 446 runs.

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