Israel Folau is intent on delivering for the Wallabies in his first-time Test start in the centres, now that he’s settled his future.
To the surprise of the All Blacks, and possibly the annoyance of coach Michael Cheika, Folau confirmed he’d be wearing the Wallabies’ No.13 jumper in Saturday’s final Bledisloe Cup stoush of the year
A stand-out performer during stints in the centres for the NSW Waratahs in Super Rugby in 2016 and 2017, Australia’s backline ace is confident he can also step up at international level as the Wallabies attempt to restore some battered trans-Tasman pride in Yokohoma..
“It hasn’t changed too much from the role I’ve been given probably the last month or so playing for the Wallabies. I’ve been attacking there at 13 anyway,” Folau said on Wednesday on the eve of Cheika’s official team announcement.
“So it’s not too much of a change. The number on the back of the jersey is going to be the difference.”
Folau’s biggest challenge will likely come in defence, not that he’s worried at all.
“Even though I haven’t spent that much time defending there, I’m feeling comfortable to do that,” he said.
“It’s something that you kind of embrace as a professional athlete.
“I’m confident in having to defend there up front. It’s all about the connections with guys inside and outside of you.
“So, if we’re on the same page there, I’m very comfortable in reading what’s in front of me and making the tackle.”
Folau’s shift to the midfield alongside playmakers and long-time Waratahs teammates Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley has opened up a position on the wing.
Cheika was leaning towards recalling Sefa Naivalu, who can also cover 13, but also has young guns Jack Maddocks and Tom Banks at his disposal.
All Blacks five-eighth Beauden Barrett had been expecting Folau to again start on the wing, as he did for the past three games of the Rugby Championship after Cheika’s switching of Dane Haylett-Petty to fullback.
“For the first two Bledisloe Cup games we analysed them (the Wallabies) a lot and we saw the way they played and changed in those two games,” Barrett said.
“Over the next few days as we are preparing we will probably pick up a few new things.
“There is potentially going to be a new midfield combination and Israel Folau on the wing.
“Those are some of the things we will have to do our homework on.”