Israel Folau’s legal battle with Rugby Australia looks likely to head to trial next year after the case kicked off with a directions hearing on Tuesday.
Folau and Rugby Australia are all-but certain to face a trial in February 2020 if they fail to resolve a multi-million dollar unfair dismissal case brought by the former Wallabies player and staunch Christian.
Folau's lawyer Stuart Wood QC faced the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne on Tuesday for the directions hearing, during which chief judge Will Alstergren encouraged the parties to settle their dispute through mediation on December 13.
However Alstergen said they would proceed to trial on February 4 next year if that failed.
That result is seemingly a big win for Rugby Australia, as it means Folau’s trial won’t be taking place during next month’s World Cup - an undoubted distraction the Wallabies would have been keen to avoid.
As Georgina Robinson of the Sydney Morning Herald said: “The date means Australia's World Cup campaign will proceed without the ongoing shadow of former first-choice fullback Folau hanging over them, although it will collide with the start of the Waratahs' new Super Rugby season, which kicks off in the first week of February.”
Folau’s lawyer fumes at Rugby Australia request
Folau was not present at Tuesday's hearing, which was also live-streamed to Sydney.
Lawyers for Rugby Australia indicated they may apply for the case to be heard by the Federal Court of Australia rather than the Federal Circuit Court, and may also apply to have the case transferred to Sydney.
Mr Wood criticised the move, saying it was an attempt to delay proceedings and that he wanted Judge Alstergren to be aware of "what's going on in the background".
The allegation was denied by Rugby Australia lawyer Adam Hochroth.
Folau says he was dismissed on religious grounds over an April Instagram post paraphrasing Bible passages saying "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators" were destined for hell.
He wants his contracts with Rugby Australia and the NSW Waratahs reinstated and is asking for $10 million in damages.