Israel Folau will prove the difference between the two teams when the Waratahs take on the Brumbies in Saturday's semi-final in Sydney, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
'He's a genuine freak,' Nic White told the Sydney Morning Herald about his Wallabies teammate. 'The type of player who changes games. You've got to be on your game and hope he's off his.'
If that's the Brumbies' strategy for halting the freak that is Izzy Folau, then they may be heading for trouble on Saturday. Folau has hardly put a foot wrong this year, for club or country. If the stats are anything to go by (and in his case they are), Folau rarely, if ever, has an off day. He leads the way in offloads, clean breaks and most importantly tries scored. He's run over 1,000m this season simply because he's that difficult to stop, whether you're on your game or not. In a star-studded Waratahs backline, he shines brightest.
They're not too bad up front either. With Wycliff Palu and Jacques Potgieter providing the grunt and Michael Hooper the guile. They have a wonderful balance about their forward play. They've been the most complete side over the course of the season, but these are the play-offs and league form counts for nothing.
As does their 39-8 demolition of the Brumbies at the end of June. The Brumbies have six players back in action who missed that game, including Wallabies Matt Toomua, Joseph Tomane, Pat McCabe, Sam Carter and hooker Josh Mann-Rea. This is a very different Brumbies team, shown last weekend against the Chiefs.
In their only other semi-final meeting, the Brumbies upset the odds to knock over the Waratahs despite finishing below them in the overall log. That victory, in 2002, was one of only two that the Brumbies have managed in Sydney, a pretty dismal record.
They enter this one with an unchanged side from the one that saw off the Chiefs in Canberra last weekend.
Meanwhile, the Waratahs have made three changes to the side that beat the Reds 34-3 a fortnight ago. Folau has recovered from a thigh injury to take his place at fullback, while Rob Horne and Potgieter have been drafted back into the starting line-up. Will Skelton will once again start on the bench, where he is expected to make an impact later on.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Waratahs 13, Brumbies 11
In Sydney: Waratahs 11, Brumbies 2
FOLAU'S STATS THAT MATTER
12 – The number of tries he's scored (Rank 1)
42 – The number of offloads he's made (Rank 1)
24 – The number of clean breaks he's made (Rank 1)
45 – The number of defenders he's beaten (Rank 3)
1,010 – The number of metres he's run (Rank 4)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Stephen Hoiles, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs (two to be omitted): 16 Paddy Ryan, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Tolu Latu, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Mitchell Chapman, 21 Pat McCutcheon, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 24 Matt Carraro, 25 Mitchell Chapman.
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Leon Power, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Ruaidhri Murphy, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Fotu Auelua, 20 Tom McVerry, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Joe Tomane, 23 Pat McCabe.
Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images