Wherever Israel Folau plays, his freakish speed, power, balance and skills often decide the outcome of games.
The Warratahs operated on a ‘get the ball to Izzy’ game plan in the Super 18 by moving him from fullback to centre. Is is time for Wallabies coach Michael Cheika to follow suit?
Folau is undoubtedly Cheika’s biggest attacking weapon. At centre in the Super 18, Folau scored eight tries in ten games to finish top try scorer for the 2016 season. At fullback in 2015, Folau only scored five tries for the whole season. He also had a quiet 2015 World Cup at fullback, struggling with an ankle ligament injury and failed to score a try in the tournament. Cheika prefers to keep Folau in a roving role at fullback.
“I think I’ve shown that that’s where I like him playing and picked him there,” Cheika said to the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Even though he played the [Super Rugby] season at No.13 he was playing [at fullback] beforehand. I think he’s shown no matter where he plays he’ll be an influence on the game but I like him back there and what he can do in the wider channels. I’d suggest more than likely that’s where he’ll be playing.”
Folau himself is diplomatic about the debate (via Rugby Heaven):
“It’s a bit of a roaming role at the moment. That’s the way I’ve been playing – attacking at 13 and defending at fullback, which I don’t mind.
“I get to use the skill sets that I have at the back there as well.”
However, many teams have worked out a strategy to limit Folau’s impact from fullback by reducing their long defensive punts and reducing his aerial threat by crowding or double-teaming him. In midfield, he has more straightforward opportunities to get his hands on the ball and use his extraordinary natural gifts to beat defenders.
There is also more danger of Folau being hit harder by the loose forwards and midfield backs but he has shown resilience in the NRL in that position. With midfield being a potential weak area for the All Blacks, it may make strong strategic sense for Cheika to hand Folau the 13 jersey sooner than later.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena