Israel Folau may play fullback
August 18, 2013
Israel Folau may have more time to run at fullback © Getty Images
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie will consider deploying Israel Folau at fullback in a bid to maximise the player's game-breaking attacking potential and to keep alive Australia's Bledisloe Cup hopes.
The Wallabies must win the second Bledisloe Test in Wellington to avoid losing the trans-Tasman series for an 11th successive year, and Folau must receive more ball after Wallabies great Tim Horan bemoaned how, for all the deadly weaponry at his disposal, he had "one of the quietest games I've ever seen from an Australian winger" in the 47-29 shellacking at the hands of the All Blacks.
"They said they were going to target him," McKenzie said on Sunday of the All Blacks' tactics. "Well, one way of targeting him is to keep him out of the game. So it's up to us to find ways to keep him in the game."
Folau, the New South Wales Waratahs fullback, was crowned Australia's Super Rugby rookie of the year in his debut season in the code, while Jesse Mogg had a forgettable starting debut in Australia's No.15 jumper on Saturday. Mogg, 23, also lost his nerve when the Super Rugby final was on the line against the Chiefs, and his Brumbies coach, Jake White, said before the international season that Mogg wasn't yet ready for Test rugby.
McKenzie now must strike the right balance if he reshuffles his backline for the do-or-die clash in New Zealand, where the Wallabies haven't won since 2001. A decision to move Folau to fullback will probably require Adam Ashley-Cooper, one of Australia's shining lights at outside centre, to move to the wing while promoting Tevita Kuridrani, another Test novice, to a midfield starting role.
McKenzie could also start James O'Connor, twice caught out defensively in the six-try first-Test drubbing, and who also boasts a superior kicking game to that of Folau, at fullback. But that would leave the dual international again stranded on the wing and at risk of being under-utilised.
We must treasure possession, Ewen McKenzie says
"He's played most of his rugby league career on the wing," McKenzie said. "The fullback bit has been obviously something the Tahs experimented with. We certainly don't rule out that he can play in that position, and within a game he can play in that position. So we'll be open-minded about that. He's a good player and we practised to have him involved in the game. It just didn't eventuate."
McKenzie ruled out sweeping changes, saying the focus in the coming week would be on improving the side's transition defence after the world champions scored three tries from turnovers; also decision making and ball security. "They're things we have to attend to but the good thing is they're easily fixed."
Will Genia, meanwhile, insisted the Wallabies could still defy the odds and wrestle back the treasured Bledisloe Cup with successive wins over the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time in a single season since 1949.
"I don't feel deflated," Genia said. "Not at all. There's a lot of confidence in the fact that we scored 29 points. We had a heavy emphasis on attack during the week because we wanted to re-invent and refresh a few new things. We've just got to go away and make sure we work hard because seven days is a long time. It's an old cliche, but I still feel very confident. We've lost one game. We've got two more to potentially, hopefully, get a trophy. It's only the start of the competition. You can't dwell too much in history."
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