Australia v British & Irish Lions, Brisbane, June 22
Israel Folau primed for Lions challenge
June 21, 2013
Israel Folau, James O'Connor, Robbie Deans and Ben Mowen fielded questions from the media on Thursday © Getty Images
Israel Folau has spent the bulk of his brief rugby career at fullback but the dual international-in-waiting insists he is not concerned about playing on the wing against the British & Irish Lions in the first Tom Richards Cup Test at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
Folau, 24, will complete his remarkable rise to the Test ranks in the series opener on Saturday, after just 15 Super Rugby games for New South Wales Waratahs since switching from the AFL, and he has welcomed the challenge after Lions coach Warren Gatland confirmed his side would target the former rugby league international and AFL convert.
"I've had plenty of time to train on the wing and I've felt very comfortable training there and during the opportunities I've played there this year so far so it doesn't worry me," Folau said. "That'll be the same mindset I go in with on Saturday night and nothing will change. It's funny when you think about this time last year I was playing AFL [for Greater Western Sydney Giants], and things change a lot in a short time. But I haven't regretted anything and it's been a great journey for me so far, and this is probably the start of an exciting one, so Saturday night's going to be huge for me and I can't wait to get out there."
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said Folau wasn't a genuine debutant given his experience at State of Origin and Test level in rugby league, and he vowed his game plan would use the code-hopper's immense talents to test the Lions. "I guess that's one advantage Israel has is they've never faced him previously," Deans said. "They will have witnessed what he's capable of and they'll be wanting to limit that because he's a bloke that makes things happen when he gets his hands on the ball, and it's fully our intent to get the ball in his hands."
Gatland is respectful of Folau's talent, but he has questioned the player's ability to switch from fullback to wing on Test debut. "We know what a quality player he is and an absolutely outstanding athlete. But probably the hardest position on the field to defend is the winger, so there'll be no doubt that he'll receive some sort of attention defensively to see how strong he is at that."
Robbie Deans is adamant the Wallabies will hit the ground running%]
Wales winger George North, who has overcome a hamstring injury to go head-to-head with Folau, was more diplomatic in his appraisal of his opposite number. "Obviously he's been on fire this season," North said. "He a quality act but obviously we're looking at not just him but the whole backline now leading up to the Test. Obviously he's a quality player, and fullback and wing are much the same apart from a few little things here and there. But it's quite easy to switch in and out of really, so I don't think he'll have any issues there."
Folau was equally respectful of North's abilities.
"He's a quality player and I'm going to have to do my homework on him, and I've been doing that the last couple of weeks," Folau said. "It's going to be a tough challenge for me but I've just got to go out there and just do my best and try and limit his opportunities."