Uniting the Wallabies is Michael Cheika's greatest challenge yet

With the Israel Folau sanction at last handed down on Friday, this weekend's Rugby World Cup camp is arguably the most important two days of Michael Cheika's five-year Wallabies tenure.

After the Reds and Waratahs do battle in Brisbane on Saturday night, Cheika will bring together around 40 World Cup hopefuls for the third of his pre-tournament camps. While there will be some fitness testing, game plan familiarisation and general World Cup preparation, Cheika faces a far greater challenge inside the confines of the team room: Uniting a fractured squad.

The Folau saga has virtually split the squad in two. While the meaning of the prayer circle that followed the Rebels' victory over the Reds in Melbourne - Folau had reportedly rallied support for his cause from the Polynesian community -- should not be overblown and threats of a player boycott might be a tad extreme, the level of frustration has been evident in the social media posts of Taniela Tupou and Samu Kerevi.

Many have also paid tribute to Folau on social media after Friday's decision.

Then there are those who find themselves on the other side of the divide - the Wallabies players who have simply had enough of Folau's social media commentary and its impact on both the Waratahs and Test squad.

ESPN understands several senior Waratahs players were extremely angry with Folau's anti-gay posts from April 8 -- which also condemned drunks, fornicators and others to hell unless they repented for their sins -- believing it showed a strong disregard for the NSW squad.

While the Waratahs produced two solid performances without getting the results in South Africa, they have dropped three of their four games since Folau used Twitter and Instagram to again voice his opinions.

It has disrupted the Waratahs' season, no matter how much coach Daryl Gibson has tried not to make it an excuse.

Some of those Waratahs players will be involved in the camp in Brisbane this weekend, alongside those from Australia's other franchises for whom Folau's comments have been really troubling.

While David Pocock has largely been silent on the matter this time around after discussing his difference of opinion with Folau during the 2018 Test season, the Wallabies' most important player holds the exact opposite viewpoint to his former Australia teammate. Pocock was a long-time campaigner for marriage equality - he and wife Emma refused to officially tie the knot until gay marriage was legalised in Australia - and has a strong sense of social justice.

Matt Toomua, who has just returned from Leicester to link up with the Rebels, is another player who has championed the equality cause. He was part of a float for Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 2015 that featured a number of Australian athletes, before donning rainbow laces the following year in another show of support. Toomua and Pocock both loom as influential figures for the Wallabies if they're to match their run to the World Cup final from 2015, or unlikely as it may seem, go one better and raise the Webb Ellis Trophy. Pocock also has to shake off a calf injury that has kept him out of all but three games for the Brumbies this season.

Just how Cheika brings the two camps together, beginning this weekend, will be a measure of his management ability. It has long been known that much of Cheika's coaching appeal is his ability to get the best out of players from a motivational perspective, having them believe they are actually better than what they think they are.

And perhaps this disconnected, fractured playing group will bring the best out of the Cheika, too. In taking the Wallabies to the final in London after just 10 months in charge, and having overcome the fallout from the Kurtley Beale WhatsApp scandal, Cheika was awarded World Rugby's Coach of the Year. He has experience in handling a crisis.

He's had scarce little to crow about apart from a solitary Bledisloe Cup triumph since 2015, though, a resume that features Heineken Cup and Super Rugby crowns to go with that World Cup final appearance taking a hit as a result.

Just how he manages this post-Folau situation could help restore that reputation and begin the road to healing an Australian game that has hit one of its lowest points on record.