Super Rugby
Coach Cheika says Folau deserves to start
February 21, 2013
The Waratahs' Israel Folau is felled by the Crusaders' defence, Super Rugby trial match, Waratahs v Crusaders, Allianz Stadium, Sydney, Australia, February 14, 2013
Expectations continue to grow around Israel Folau after his strong form for the Waratahs in the trial matches. © Getty Images

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika says boom recruit Israel Folau has earned his starting spot ahead of his Super Rugby debut against the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday night. Folau ran at fullback throughout Thursday's training session and will be given first crack at the No.15 jersey when the team is officially announced Thursday night.

"He's played well in the practice matches and I think he's earned his spot more than anything," Cheika said. "It's pretty hard when a player puts himself out there and he wants to play and wants to be involved and goes out looking for touches or is doing hard work in defence, it's pretty hard to leave players like that out."

But while Cheika admits the former NRL star and AFL convert has exceeded his expectations so far, he insists Folau is far from the finished product after just three trial appearances in his third professional code.

"Obviously we knew he's a good player but the transition, there's still a lot to go," Cheika said. "It's not going to be that simple that now he's picked and everything going to be all right, but all in all I've been really happy with what he's done, both in attack and defence and his learning will continue as he goes along."

"We're under no illusions that he's going to come out and do anything that's out of the ordinary in game one," Cheika added. "We believe that's going to be a pressure-cooker atmosphere and he has experienced that before so he'll be ready for that."

Asked if he has instructed his playmakers to use a rugby league style cross-field kick to exploit Folau's superb leaping abilities against the Reds, a coy Cheika replied: "If we get ourselves into position to do that, maybe."

"You've got to get yourself into position, you've got to lay the platform that's going to allow you to launch those types of attacks," Cheika said. "I don't know, maybe he'll be out on the wing and hopefully we'll draw a few blokes and we'll run it, who knows? We'll try and keep the opposition guessing a little bit."

Meanwhile, fly-half Bernard Foley trained strongly on Thursday and is expected to be named at number 10 after overcoming an ankle injury. His likely inclusion is a major boost for the 'Tahs, with Berrick Barnes sidelined with a knee injury.

"He looked like he trained pretty well today, we'll make a final call on what's going to happen there later on so we'll see how he pulls up," Cheika said of Foley. "Every injury there's a bit of recovery time post any activity so if he looks like he comes through this session well then we'll make the final call on what he does after that."

In other team news, Jeremy Tilse is expected to be named ahead of veteran Benn Robinson, while Wallabies winger Lachie Turner is also likely to start on the bench after youngster Tom Kingston trained on the right wing on Thursday.

Greg Growden has all the gossip on the Waratahs, plus Super Rugby and Six Nations preview.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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