Saturday 21 September 2019

Controversial Australia star Israel Folau: I don't really know much about Ireland

Israel Folau
Israel Folau

Rúaidhrí O'Connor in Brisbane

They have travelled to Australia as Grand Slam winners, ranked second in the world and unbeaten in more than a year but it seems Ireland still have work to do to get on the Wallabies' radar ahead of the three-test series between the sides.

More than 45,000 fans are expected in Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium for the opener on Saturday and earlier today the ARU held their first media event of the week beneath the giant gold jersey hanging from the stadium rafters to promote the series.

The night before, the 52,500-capacity venue hosted a high-scoring Super Rugby derby between locals The Reds and their New South Wales rivals, The Waratahs, who ran out winners thanks to a star performance from their controversial full-back Israel Folau.

Yesterday morning, the players gathered together to turn their attention to national duty and, if their public utterances are anything to go by, it seems they have a bit of work to do to get up to speed on their opponents ahead of the games ahead.

"To be honest, I don't really know too much about the Ireland side," Folau said when asked about what he expects.

"I'm sure as we get into the week we'll explore their strengths and weaknesses as a team and we'll go from there."

Of course, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika knows plenty about Ireland given his memorable stint as Leinster coach; while Folau is among those who have faced a host of their guests in November games over the years and in the 2013 Lions tour.

Given his players had a full round of Super Rugby games to prepare for at the weekend, it is perhaps understandable that Cheika's men were not yet up to speed on the latest goings on in the travelling party.

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Asked about the challenge he expects from Ireland's scrum, prop Tom Robertson was unaware that Ireland's captain Rory Best was ruled out of the touring party on Thursday.

"Yeah, they have a pretty good scrum. They've got Rory Best, he hasn't played 100 Tests for no reason; he'll be very tough up front," he said.

"They've got a lot of experience in there, it'll be tough but we're looking forward to the challenge."

Like Folau, Robertson's focus has been on the Reds' game against the Waratahs and by mid-week he'll be up to speed with the Irish options.

The Wallabies coaches attended the Super Rugby game and, while they will have been concerned with some of the defending in the 52-41 battle, Cheika and his staff will be encouraged by the quality of attacking play on display.

Coupled with the Melbourne Rebels' win over the Auckland Blues, which ended a 32-game losing streak away from home against New Zealand opposition, it should infuse the squad with some confidence.

"I guess there's some pros and cons about scoring so many tries, it's great that we've got guys who can get over the line and score points, but in saying that there are probably areas in defence that we can work on.

"Certainly, putting points on the board is not a problem for us.

"I guess we'll gain confidence from it, we've got strike players in the team who can score points and that's probably a strength of ours at this time.

"As a team we're definitely excited to be back in camp as a group and we're looking forward to the week ahead and preparing for the game at the weekend.

"As a coaching staff, they'll have been monitoring the numbers and looking at the way we've been playing and might get a bit of confidence into this week.

"We just have to make sure that we work hard, tick the boxes before we go into the game."

Australia have added talented Crusaders back-row Pete Samu to their squad having secured his release from the NZRU, but they have suffered a blow with the loss of hooker Jordan Uelese who suffered a suspected cruciate ligament tear in the Rebels' win.

Uelese was expected to be Cheika's preferred option at No 2 despite having just two caps, with his the remaining hookers in the squad, Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Folau Fainga'a, both uncapped.

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