NSW Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has praised his Super Rugby players for the support they've shown Israel Folau despite the Wallaby fullback's latest controversial comments on gay people.
Gibson said although many players didn't share Folau's stance on homosexuality, the team had stood by the star player in recent weeks as the fallout from his controversial online commentary about gay people intensified.
"We may not all agree with his belief but we support him as a teammate and his right to express that freely," Gibson told reporters on Tuesday.
"I've always said everyone is free to have a range of diverse opinion. That's the beauty of being a team - we're not all going to agree on the same thing."
Folau used a Players' Voice column to further express his strong religious beliefs on Monday after posting on Instagram two weeks ago that gays were headed for "HELL" unless they repented their sins and turned to God.
The controversy hasn't blunted the Waratahs' attack in recent weeks, with the team winning their past four matches to top the Australian conference, even despite an injury to Folau.
Regardless, Gibson said Friday's match-up against the Lions at Sydney's Allianz Stadium would be a tough encounter.
"They're a real test. It's going to be a real challenge for us. We understand the physical nature of the way they play the game and the free spirit in which they use the ball," he said.
Adding to Gibson's concerns are injuries that have delayed the team's selection.
"We've got a few banged up bodies from the weekend. We're just waiting on those to see how they come through," he said.
Will Miller, Michael Wells and Rob Simmons are all in some doubt after Saturday's 37-16 demolition of the Queensland Reds.
"They've all taken a few knocks and we're just giving them an extra day to see if they recover," he said.
Despite a list of walking wounded - including Folau - Gibson said the Waratahs "would make sure (their) home ground (was) a fortress" when playing the Lions.
"One of the goals we've set ourselves is being really formidable at home ... that's something we've set for ourselves and it's a record we want to continue," he said.
"It's a great opportunity for us to really show the progress we've made and build on the momentum we've gained over the past four weeks."