Super Rugby
Michael Cheika backs Israel Folau as No. 15
February 26, 2013
NSW Waratahs' fullback Israel Folau is unable to find a way through the Queensland Reds' defence. Queensland Reds v NSW Waratahs, Super Rugby, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Australia, February 23, 2013
Israel Folau endued a baptism of fire on debut against Queensland Reds © Getty Images

Michael Cheika has slammed suggestions that Israel Folau is too raw to play fullback for New South Wales Waratahs, saying that wing is the more difficult position to adjust to.

Folau struggled on debut in the Waratahs' season-opening Super Rugby loss to Queensland, and playing the pressure position of fullback he was frequently found out by the Reds' attack.

Cheika said when asked whether Folau should play on the wing against Melbourne Rebels that the player shifted between the positions anyway.

"I don't know why there seems to be a perception that the wing is easier to play than fullback," Cheika said. "In my way of thinking ... the wing is actually positionally much more difficult to play. I've said it probably about 50 times now. But we play with an interchangeable back three. So he sometimes plays on the wing, sometimes at fullback."

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans, meanwhile, backed Cheika's decision to throw the debutant into the deep end against Queensland, and also the decision to back Israel Folau in the No. 15 shirt. Cheika had every right to have confidence in his big-name recruit, Deans said at the function to mark the 100-day countdown to the British & Irish Lions series.

"It was a baptism of fire obviously," Deans said. "It was always going to be, but he's a class footballer and he'll be back, don't worry about that. It's easy from the grandstand. But he based his decision on a lot of background, from what he'd witnessed on the training ground and seen in pre-season fixtures."

The Australian Rugby Union on Monday started the 100-day countdown to the British & Irish Lions tour, which kicks off on June 5, and Folau will have had nearly a full season of Super Rugby under his belt when the first Test against the Wallabies on June 22. But Deans said it was too early to say whether Folau would be in contention for a spot in Australia's squad.

The Waratahs failed to reel in the Reds after gifting the hosts an early lead

Recovering Wallabies halfback Will Genia, however, said that Folau was more than capable of stepping up to Test standard inside four months.

Genia, who hopes to be back from his knee reconstruction for the Reds in round five or six of the Super Rugby tournament, said that Folau had a lot to learn but was capable of adjusting quickly.

"I'm a massive fan of his," he said. "I hope he learns from it and becomes a better player, and I think if he does he can have a massive future in rugby."

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