Meet Wallaby Israel Folau
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New NSW Waratahs recruit Israel Folau looks to break the line in a trial against the Crusaders (Image: Greg Seaton).
Erase the pencil entry and ink in Israel Folau to make his Wallaby debut against the Lions.
In a scintillating man-of-the-match performance at Allianz Stadium last night, Folau led the Waratahs to a nail-biting 25-20 win over the defending champion Chiefs.
In their best display of the season by the length of the straight, the Waratahs went from the get-go, and it took only 15 minutes for winger Cam Crawford to cross for a try on debut.
Having led 15-0 at the break, and 18-13 with seven minutes left on the clock, suddenly against the run of play the Chiefs had the lead for the first time at 23-18.
It would have been criminal had the Waratahs lost this game.
But last night they showed some long-overdue bottle by finishing as well as they started, with a converted John Ulugia try two minutes from time set up by Bernard Foley, correcting the scoreline to 25-20.
As Wayne Grady said when he won the 1990 USPGA championship – “You bloody bewdy!”
A salute to Waratah coach Michael Cheika. He has said all along on his debut season, the Waratahs will have ball-in-hand, and not mindlessly kick away possession.
Last night was the birth of that dream, and well worth the 10 week wait.
But Cheika couldn’t have achieved his goal without Israel Folau – he’s the launching pad.
What an athlete.
He scored the try of the season when Bernard Foley chipped to open spaces, Folau out-jumped two Chiefs defenders, and dotted down with a smile as big as Sydney Heads.
It was a move planned to perfection – the Foley chip was pin-point accurate, so too the spectacular Folau take.
But the five-pointer was only one part of Folau’s night out.
Four clean busts, two try-saving tackles, and an awareness in general play to be in the right place at the right time.
The big bloke is quickly coming to terms with his new code, and has Wallaby stamped all over him.
But it wasn’t a one-man show, even though Folau played the inspirational role.
The platform was from the kick-off, when normally the Waratahs look as though they’re on a training run.
It took the Chiefs a tick over three minutes before they touched the ball, so diligent were the Waratahs in possession.
And then it was a procession as Adam Ashley-Cooper, Benn Robinson, Michael Hooper, Sekope Kepu, Kane Douglas, David Dennis, Rob Horne, Foley, and Folau ripped the Chiefs defences apart, mainly up the middle.
And the support play, so lacking in the past, was just as effective.
It was too good to last. In a 15-minute Waratah switch-off after the break, the Chiefs piled on 10 points to have their first sniff of the game.
That they led so close to time, having been well out of it for most of the journey, was to be expected from a class outfit.
But a couple of incidents underlined this was a different Waratah outfit on duty.
Chiefs’ skipper Liam Messam has always been a no-nonsense competitor. In both incidents he illegally drove Hooper and Robinson out of play without the ball.
Both looks were of the ‘don’t mess with me pal, or it’s on’ variety – and Messam never grid-ironed them again.
So the best of the season for the Waratahs, despite referee Craig Joubert who had a bad game.
The South African has started to compensate for wrong decisions. A dangerous practice.
But that apart, it was a big night out for the men-in-blue, deserving of a far bigger crowd.
No official figure as given, but the guestimate was in the vicinity of 15,000. Not good enough.
If the Waratahs keep playing this brand of rugby and don’t attract at least 30,000, there’s something radically wrong with the fan base.
There will be 30,000-plus at the Reds-Brumbies game tonight at Suncorp, where there’s no doubt about the fan base.
They will all be in red.