UK rugby star Gareth Thomas has said that Israel Folau has risked damaging Australia's team spirit with his homophobic comments.

Folau, who plays for the Wallabies, has defended anti-gay remarks he made on Instagram.

The 29-year-old Folau, a devout Christian who regularly posts religious messages, posted a meme last month on Instagram about God's plan. When a follower asked, “What was God's plan for gay people?” Folau replied: “HELL.. Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.”

Folau has since deleted the comment.

Folau later said that he was only speaking “from the heart.”

Speaking with Sky Sports, Thomas, who came out publicly as gay in 2009, said that the controversy surrounding Folau's remarks could hurt the sport.

“We're in a really difficult position here, and the one to blame for all the difficulty is Israel Folau, for actually sending the message out,” Thomas said. “He's put a lot of people in awkward situations. What's happening now is that [coach Michael] Cheika is having to almost distance himself from a player. You’ve had businesses and companies wanting to disassociate with the team.”

“I think what Cheika’s probably trying to do is redress the balance and bring it back to an equal, by being negative towards him. He [Folau] was negative towards a whole community of millions and millions of people.”

Thomas added that for him “one man never makes a team” and “one man can sometimes be a weak link.”

(Related: Gareth Thomas says he “scrubbed” himself clean after the first time he had gay sex.)