Monday 18 December 2017

Folau Wallabies' lethal weapon

Deans banking on debutant's X-factor to inflict maximum damage on solid Lions rearguard

Israel Folau
Israel Folau

Conor George in Brisbane

IT'S one thing to know what's coming, it's quite another to stop it. Israel Folau is about to be pointed in the Lions' direction and told to dominate them.

Folau is unique in sport. He is already a rugby league international and spent two years playing in the AFL (Aussie Rules) before switching to rugby union and the Waratahs at the end of the 2012 AFL season.

His Waratahs coach Alan Gaffney summed him up as "a player who makes things happen".

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is banking on that tomorrow when Folau will go head-to-head with the Welsh behemoth that is George North.

It's a match-up that will have rugby enthusiasts salivating. At the Lions team announcement, coach Warren Gatland claimed it is a face-off that "will be worth the admission price in itself".

Folau is one of three Australian debutants for tomorrow and while Deans was enthusiastic in his praise of all three there is no doubting he believes Folau might well be the difference between the two teams.

"This isn't Israel's international debut. He's played internationally in rugby league and he is a confident player," said Deans.

"All three debutants have earned the right to be here through their Super 15 seasons and they are ready to have a go. We're looking forward to it.

"What Israel brings is great footwork, a strong work ethic and the fact that he's played a lot of rugby at full-back for the Waratahs means he brings an awareness to the position.

"And the Lions have never faced Israel before. There's an unknown quality with him that will, hopefully, be to our advantage," Deans added.

Deans' selection is premised on the Wallabies' running the ball and challenging the Lions to match them. The inclusion of Folau's Waratahs' team-mate Kane Douglas in the second-row is an indication of Australia's determination to match the Lions in the physical stakes, while trusting those fleeter of foot out wide to do the damage.

"You want to get the ball into the hands of the players who will do the most damage," said Deans. "We want to limit the time some of the Lions' players have the ball, but we also want to get the ball into Israel's hands as often as possible. He's a player who makes things happen," he said, echoing Gaffney's comments of last week.

At 24 years of age Folau's selection as Australia's 867th Wallaby comes in a remarkable first season of rugby union.

He previously represented Queensland State of Origin before his two seasons with Greater Western Sydney in the AFL. In 17 games, including three trial matches and 14 Super Rugby games, Folau has played every minute at full-back, with the exception of NSW's Round 3 match against the Brumbies, where he played on the right wing, the position he will assume tomorrow.

With eight tries, he is Super Rugby's joint-leading top try scorer this season and clearly one of the players the Lions will need to be exceptionally wary of.

Folau will join an exciting backline that also features fellow NSW players Berrick Barnes, named at full-back, and Adam Ashley-Cooper, who will play 13.

Up front, second-row Douglas will earn his seventh Test cap when he lines up alongside captain James Horwill.

problems

Brumbies' blindside prop Ben Mowen also makes his debut for Australia. He watched Tuesday night's game, but doesn't believe the Lions will suffer a repeat of their problems out of touch they had in the game in Canberra.

"Tom Croft is one of the most athletic line-out jumpers around and he's in the back-row!" said Mowen.

"And then you have O'Connell in the second-row, who is an excellent line-out operator. They have a fantastic set-piece."

The Wallabies are a team brimming with class and confidence, not least their young out-half James O'Connor who will take great confidence from holding off the challenge of Kurtley Beale to hold on to the pivot's jersey.

It's Folau, though, who is clearly the weapon the Wallabies are hoping will be the deciding factor in the game.

Irish Independent

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