The Wallabies will be looking to the gifted Israel Folau to inspire a big win at Newlands this Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Wallabies winger Joe Tomane didn’t say much at Thursday’s media gathering in Cape Town, but what he did say revealed a lot about his team’s mindset.
Tomane spoke about the speed of the South African back three, and how speed was the defining feature of Bryan Habana, Cornal Hendricks and Willie le Roux. When asked what the Wallabies had as a means to counter the Boks’ speed, Tomane’s response was emphatic: ‘We have Israel Folau.’
Folau switched from league to union in 2013, and enjoyed immediate individual success in the Test series against the British & Irish Lions. The powerfully built yet elusive fullback has taken his game to another level in 2014, and been at the heart of some notable wins for the Waratahs and Wallabies.
Indeed, it was Folau who made a couple of telling plays in the previous meeting between Australia and South Africa in Perth. The Boks' kickers targeted Folau and were largely successful in limiting his space. What the South Africans couldn’t do was repress Folau for the full 80 minutes, as he would have a hand in the 77th-minute try that clinched the Wallabies’ first win against the Boks since 2012.
A win this Saturday would mark the Wallabies’ first at Newlands since 1992. It would also propel them to No 2 in the world rankings.
Folau will play a key role this weekend, as will several others in that dangerous Wallabies backline. If they are going to beat the Boks, they can’t afford to get sucked into a forward-oriented game.
On Thursday, coach Ewen McKenzie disagreed with suggestions that the Wallabies don’t have the forward power to match that of the Boks. McKenzie was at his most animated when one of the local pressmen questioned the Wallabies’ tactics at the maul.
‘We stopped it [the Boks’ maul in Perth], and that’s what matters. There’s no point debating tactics here, it’s up to the referee to decide on the day.’
What McKenzie was willing to concede is that the Wallabies pack that starts at Newlands won’t be their strongest. Australia are down to their fourth-choice hooker in Saia Fainga'a, as Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Nathan Charles are unavailable due to injuries. No 8 Wycliff Palu has also been ruled out.
The Wallabies will be under pressure at the set pieces and the breakdowns. But if they can lure the Boks into playing a less structured game, then backs like Folau will thrive.
‘We’re hoping the weather will play its part, as we’d like to move the ball around,’ said McKenzie.
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