Departing NSW and Test halfback Nick Phipps has hit out at sacked former teammate Israel Folau and suggested his actions cost the Waratahs a spot in the Super Rugby finals.
Phipps scored a try in the Waratahs' 35-24 loss to the Brumbies at Bankwest Stadium on Saturday night, a match that was his last home game in NSW colours, as it was for Sekope Kepu's and Curtis Rona.
With the Waratahs' season all but over - they remain a mathematical chance to make the playoffs - the 71-Test halfback appeared on Channel Nine on Sunday morning, saying he was not angry at Folau but "extremely disappointed".
"Disappointed in the way way he decided to reflect those views. He can have those views, that's fine, everyone's allowed to have their own opinions," Phipps said.
"It's not something that the majority of us share but the way that it came out and the way that it's happened twice now is disappointing. We wanted to be making finals at the Waratahs this year and we haven't really been given that opportunity to make it."
Phipps said Folau went to ground after his April 10 post condemning homosexuals, among other groups, to hell, a move that left his teammates "on trial" for something they had no part in.
"It's disappointing because the players that haven't been involved in this are still on trial. There's no right side to be sitting on, apparently, everyone's got an opinion about it," he said.
"There are players very close to Izzy who are very Christian as well and that's tough for them to understand and it's tough for us as well. When you're on the road doing battle every week, it's a very tight-knit group and then when one of your own - who you love and respect, every single day train with, work hard with - [does this], it's very distracting and sad."
The Brumbies loss was the team's ninth this season and has all but killed off their faint finals hopes with a round to go.
The Waratahs were on a bye round when Folau made the Instagram post. The week before he scored his 60th try to become the competition's all-time leading try scorer.
He did not play again for NSW. Rugby Australia tore up his four-year, $5 million contract on May 17 after an independent three-person panel found his actions amounted to a high-level breach of the game's code of conduct and warranted his sacking.
The Waratahs lost five of their next eight games, under severe scrutiny over the issue and missing their top try-scorer.
NSW hooker Damien Fitzpatrick said he did not want the team to use the Folau controversy, or any other issue, as an excuse.
"It's been pretty glaring that there's been some stuff going on in our team but full credit to our guys and the resilience they've shown in really trying to stick to the job week to week," Fitzpatrick said.
"I don't want to use that as an excuse because I feel we've prepared well, had game plans specifically prepared for the teams we were playing. We executed it in patches but ... I don't think we've played an 80-minute performance this year. That's pretty telling in this comp at the moment. If you don't play 80 minutes teams can beat you by a point or two."
The Waratahs fly to Invercargill on Wednesday having to secure a bonus-point win against the Highlanders, currently a point above them, and hope that other results go their way.
The conference-topping Brumbies are locked in for a finals berth while the Rebels are also on the cusp of a maiden spot in the finals.
Phipps said he resented the distraction of the Folau saga.
"I'm extremely disappointed in the stance (Folau) has taken but it's obviously something that's very important to him and I can't speak for the rest of the group. But there's a lot of players disappointed in the way it's all gone down," he said.
"It's something that's distracted us from our goal this year to be making finals and it's disappointing that I'm watching the game that I love be picked apart for the last eight months. There's so many good stories out there about rugby union and we're not getting to talk about them."