Greg Growden writes ...
Israel Folau's legend continues to grow
Greg Growden
May 13, 2013

With the British & Irish Lions hovering, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is looking admiringly towards those players who are reliable. The biggest problem confronting him is the fact that a player who would normally be first picked for his Test team has become so unreliable.

Kurtley Beale is again sidelined due to his off-field behavior, and Deans, one of his biggest fans, has to accept he is now too much of a risk even though his footballing talents would be invaluable during the Lions Test series. While those close to Beale continue to try to divert the blame, the fact of the matter is that it is high time the player takes full responsibility for his repeated indiscretions. He is not a kid. He is, after all, 24 years old. Enough of the excuses! Beale must accept he has a problem and sort himself out. That will not be a quick process, and so the Wallabies and Deans, for the good of the troubled player, should get used to playing without him.

Harsh treatment, maybe; but one must remember the Wallabies in recent years have not entirely been one big happy family. Numerous senior Test players have been unimpressed that several wayward youngsters in the Wallabies squad have received what they perceive as preferential treatment from Deans and the Australian Rugby Union; and that has done nothing for team morale.

So Deans must now look for someone who is at least dependable to fill in for Beale. The Melbourne Rebels player was most likely to be picked at fullback; in Deans' favour, the coach has several options at No. 15. He can play it safe - selecting Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O'Connor or Berrick Barnes there. Or he can take the tantalising gamble of selecting a person he recently described as having the potential to be an "absolute legend" in rugby union.

Israel Folau continues to press his claims with the Waratahs (video available only in Australia)

Over the past three weeks for the Waratahs, Israel Folau has transformed himself from a hesitant, sometimes lost, soul to the most assured of attacking performers. The Waratahs - who are at last fit and, unlike last season, can play the full 80 minutes - have realised they must give Folau the ball when there is space available if they are going to make full use of him; due to better service from those inside him, Folau has succeeded in bewildering the Bulls, Southern Kings and Stormers.

Folau appeared lost in the opening rounds, but his positional play has since vastly improved. A dramatic boost in confidence does that. Deans realises the British & Irish Lions do not know what to expect from Folau, and uncertainty may easily work in the Wallabies favour. Deans must now be getting close to penning rather than penciling in Folau's name. Folau can guarantee his Test selection by performing against the Brumbies in Super Rugby round 14, particularly as the opponents have made it widely known they will target him.

Quade Cooper impressed for the reds against the Sharks (video available only in Australia)

Elsewhere, Quade Cooper has returned to the peak of his form and appears destined to play alongside Will Genia in the first Test; Scott Higginbotham is making it nigh impossible to ignore him as the Test No. 8; James Slipper is the pick of the tight-head props; and Dave Dennis, after a slow start to the season, will now be high up in Deans' blindside flanker pecking order. Dennis also helps the lineout contingent.

The Form team: Israel Folau (Waratahs); Rod Davies (Reds), Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs), Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies), Digby Ioane (Reds); Quade Cooper (Reds), Will Genia (Reds); Scott Higginbotham (Rebels), George Smith (Brumbies), Dave Dennis (Waratahs); Rob Simmons (Reds), Kane Douglas (Waratahs); James Slipper (Reds), Stephen Moore (Brumbies) Benn Robinson (Waratahs). Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau (Waratahs), Ben Alexander (Brumbies), Sekope Kepu (Waratahs), Ben Mowen (Brumbies), Michael Hooper (Waratahs), Nic White (Brumbies), Kyle Godwin (Force), Jesse Mogg (Brumbies).

The likely Test squad: Israel Folau; James O'Connor (Rebels), Adam Ashley-Cooper, Pat McCabe (Brumbies), Digby Ioane; Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Scott Higginbotham, George Smith, Dave Dennis; Rob Simmons, James Horwill (Reds, captain); James Slipper, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson. Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Ben Alexander, Sekope Kepu, Hugh McMeniman (Force), Michael Hooper, Nic White, Christian Lealiifano (Brumbies), Berrick Barnes (Waratahs).

Who would you select for the Wallabies against the British & Irish Lions? Discuss the issue with Greg Growden on Twitter at @GregGrowden or leave a comment below to join the conversation at ESPNscrum.

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