SPIRO: Israel Folau will be a Waratahs and Wallaby star

Spiro Zavos Columnist

By Spiro Zavos, Spiro Zavos is a Roar Expert

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    Israel Folau's defection led to plenty of code warring, but was it necessary? (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

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    Minutes after the final whistle of the entertaining friendly between the Melbourne Rebels and the NSW Waratahs, I went across a crowded long room looking down on the ground and asked Rod Macqueen, “What did you think of Israel Folau?”

    “A superb performance,” the greatest of the Wallaby coaches and now a director of the Melbourne Rebels told me.

    And so it was.

    In the opening minutes of the friendly, which was played in four 20 minutes sessions, Folau got the ball about 10m from the Rebels tryline.

    He turned the chance of a try into a certainty with some brilliant play. He took a pass under pressure and surrounded by defenders.

    He spun and twisted out of tackles. He bumped through another attempted tackle.

    And then he hurled himself through a couple more defenders to plant the ball triumphantly across the line.

    He was immediately swamped by his excited, jubilant Waratahs teammates.

    Later on in the match, Folau scored another strong try. He made the final pass for another try and was strong in the air. He was also impressive in the way he placed and presented the ball after he was tackled.

    The main fault in his game right now is that he doesn’t quite understand what to do at the ruck and mauls.

    I noticed early on how he tended to dive over the ruck and lie on the ground, instead of holding his feet and engaging with the opposition ruckers.

    He was eventually given a yellow card by the excellent referee, Angus Gardner, for not rolling away.

    The mauling aspect of rugby will come quickly enough to Folau, I would think.

    When it does he will be the sort of big outside back/fullback Australian rugby has been looking for since the days of Joe Roff.

    My guess is that he will be an ideal, the ideal, addition to the Wallabies, probably as a winger in the coming Test series against the British and Irish Lions.

    The Waratahs, too, under their new coach Michael Cheika, look like a different side from the sullen, negative and passionless teams of the last few years.

    They were enthusiastic, fit, had lots of plays and were very strong with the ball in hand. A couple of new players took the eye, aside from Folau.

    Cam Crawford, who has had one game for the Brumbies and playing out of the Northern Suburbs club, showed plenty of size and pace on the wing.

    On the side of the scrum, AJ Gilbert (Dorrigo High School and Nothern Suburbs) looked to be a lively, confrontational number seven.

    I presume it was Gilbert because there was no list with the players on it. I’m going from the looks of the player on the field and a photo of him (presumably) in a very fine match program.

    The main weakness I saw in his play was a tendency to lose the ball trying to unload in the tackle.

    In the first quarter of the match, the Waratahs were penalised frequently at the ruck and maul.

    It was explained to me that Cheika had given his players the instruction to play to the limits (and beyond) of the laws and then pull back when the players worked out what the referee would allow and not allow.

    This was interesting because Macqueen had told a group of Rebel supporters at a fine lunch at Meadowbank Estate (journalists have to have some pleasures, too) before the match that a lot of work had gone into honing the rucking and mauling techniques of the Rebels.

    At training, the work in this area looked promising. But, as Macqueen pointed out, the test was how the technique would hold up under what was certain to be an assault by the Waratahs. And this is what happened.

    The Waratahs did show a lot of the expected mongrel with their tackles and rucking. The Rebels did well, despite the assault.

    They did even better in the set pieces, with a good lineout (except for a couple of lost long-throws) and an even better scrum.

    With Kurtley Beale resting, the Rebels lacked a bit of spark in the backs. Their big centres didn’t make a lot of impression on the Waratahs defensive line.

    As their coach, Damien Hill, pointed out, the Rebels lost possession or made mistakes eight times in the match when they were within five metres of the Waratahs tryline. This is correct.

    The 24-16 scoreline in favour of New South Wales could have been markedly different if some of the chances, even a couple of them had been converted.

    The Rebels look like they will be a tenacious side and especially hard to beat at home. They are fit following some sessions with the Storm.

    Their set pieces are good. There is a good spirit in the franchise, on and off the field.

    I spent most of match day with Rebel management, supporters and sponsors. They were gracious and enthusiastic.

    It was a fine experience for a journalist to hear what is happening in the franchise and what the hopes are for the future.

    Dr Arnold, the famous rector of Rugby School at the time of ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’ was an inveterate traveller.

    As soon as term finished, Dr Arnold had his horse and carriage brought around so he could start yet another trip to the Europe.

    I always think this touring mentality has become part of the DNA of the rugby game. It is one of the game’s most pleasurable characteristics.

    It was in this spirit of touring that we (wife Judy) booked ourselves a four-day stay in Hobart which gave us the chance to go twice to the literally fantastic museum MONA.

    Our hotel provided excellent service and was close to the waterfront and its attractions.

    One of the staff told us on the Saturday that she was going to the rugby with her boyfriend. Afterwards, she said she had a great time and was pleased that her team, the Waratahs, won the match.

    The local television channel ran an item on its 6 o’clock news about rugymania in Hobart, and the huge success of the rugby. 

    The crowd was around 9,000 (not a great deal less than the Storm – Broncos match last year). Even the Premier was in the VIP room watching the match.

    The Rebels – Waratahs match and its promotion was organised by the North Hobart Football Club. The club is 131 years old.

    Its ground is an old-fashioned masterpiece of terraces, a couple of old stands and a more modern (I would guess the 1970s) triple-decker stand with a long room with massive glass windows overlooking a splendidly grassed and marked out field.

    The Rebels spent from Wednesday promoting the ‘rugbymania’ in an AFL citadel of a city. The promotion was a credit to the North Hobart Football Club promoters and to the Rebels franchise.

    The opportunity to mix the joy of watching two good rugby teams showing their stuff and discover an interesting city proved to be a great way to start what is going to be a memorable year of rugby and touring.

    And from a rugby writer’s perspective, there is a great deal of pleasure being able to witness the beginning of Israel Folau’s professional rugby career and the possibility that I (and the other 9,000 spectators) may have winessed the first eruption of a potentially great player.

    Spiro Zavos
    Spiro Zavos

    Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

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    The Crowd Says (116)

    • February 4th 2013 @ 7:00am
      Kane said | February 4th 2013 @ 7:00am | ! Report

      If I was British I would give my left leg to see Israel make the Wallabies for the upcoming tour.

      • February 4th 2013 @ 7:43am
        p.Tah said | February 4th 2013 @ 7:43am | ! Report

        That’s going to make it challenging if it’s standing room only at the Lions games.

        • Roar Guru

          February 4th 2013 @ 5:29pm
          Corne Van Vuuren said | February 4th 2013 @ 5:29pm | ! Report

          Easy, he’ll change his name to Ilene. 😉

          • February 5th 2013 @ 11:40am
            Kane said | February 5th 2013 @ 11:40am | ! Report


    • February 4th 2013 @ 7:03am
      Sailosi said | February 4th 2013 @ 7:03am | ! Report

      A tad premature. Many of the players in this trial were amateurs or semi pro.

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download it now [http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/the-roar/id327174726?mt=8].

    • February 4th 2013 @ 7:09am
      mania said | February 4th 2013 @ 7:09am | ! Report

      good to hear izzy is progressing well. but i still cant understand the hype at tah’s . its the forwards that win and lose u the game.

      • February 4th 2013 @ 10:45am
        Blinky Bill of Bellingen said | February 4th 2013 @ 10:45am | ! Report

        Is there hype at the Tahs?

        Journo’s, as you’d expect, are beating things up a bit but I’d reckon the Tah’s are keeping it real.

        Get over to Fox Sports and see for yourself what Cheika had to say about the forwards as well as the backs. Seems pretty grounded to me.

      • February 4th 2013 @ 10:48am
        jameswm said | February 4th 2013 @ 10:48am | ! Report

        The forwards aren’t the Waratahs’ problem.

        • February 4th 2013 @ 11:12am
          mania said | February 4th 2013 @ 11:12am | ! Report

          i disagree jameswm – with the forwards that tahs have they should be dominating the aus derby scrums. what i saw last year was tah’s winning their own ball, but not always comfortably. scrum was an attacking platform as all energyies was going into making it stable.
          i will admit tho that i hardly ever watched a full game of the aus derby’s and by the 2nd half i didnt watch any if i could help it.

          • February 4th 2013 @ 1:35pm
            Hightackle said | February 4th 2013 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

            If the forwards win the game then why are there not 15 forwards on a team?
            The reason is that that saying is completely untrue.

            • February 4th 2013 @ 1:53pm
              Bearfax said | February 4th 2013 @ 1:53pm | ! Report

              No I wont have that. Someone is lying on the forums. Disgraceful

            • Roar Guru

              February 4th 2013 @ 3:07pm
              PeterK said | February 4th 2013 @ 3:07pm | ! Report

              agree with you there.

              Many a time the forwards have been shaded and the backs won it for them.

              Historically the wallaby forwards were luck to get 35-40% of the ball but the amazing backs still won the game.

              • February 5th 2013 @ 1:11am
                Hightackle said | February 5th 2013 @ 1:11am | ! Report

                Peter its clear Mania hasnt actually thought about it otherwise he would realise thay the 3rd ranked team in the world has about the 5th-7th strongest forwards (imo).
                He obviously thinks the goal kicking and back play dont win games. Sounds dumb but hes that sure he is getting insulting.

            • February 4th 2013 @ 5:13pm
              mania said | February 4th 2013 @ 5:13pm | ! Report

              wow HT u know nothing about playying rugby

              • February 4th 2013 @ 11:23pm
                jeremy said | February 4th 2013 @ 11:23pm | ! Report

                Mania I dont think you like rugby…..

              • February 5th 2013 @ 12:49am
                Hightackle said | February 5th 2013 @ 12:49am | ! Report

                Wow mania you dont think much and just spew cliches.
                Both are just as important. Thats why a team needs both. If forwards win the game, why are there not 15 forwards genius? Becuz its BS thats why. Use your brain instead of coughing up cliches Mania.

              • February 5th 2013 @ 12:54am
                Hightackle said | February 5th 2013 @ 12:54am | ! Report

                Mania if you think forwards win games and the backs are just there for show Im 100% sure you have no clue about rugby becuz its just plain wrong. Im 100%positive on this and if you knew the slightest thing about rugby you would know that every player is important and Dan Carter is just as important as any forward in NZs team.
                But it seems you dont think mania. Try it, then talk.

              • February 5th 2013 @ 4:55am
                mania said | February 5th 2013 @ 4:55am | ! Report

                save me from your talking sht HT. u pontificate what an expert u are and no else knows better than u. no wonder u get modded so often and vilified on here. its a bs filter and ur clogging it up
                backs vs forwards, whose the most important?

              • February 5th 2013 @ 5:17am
                Hightackle said | February 5th 2013 @ 5:17am | ! Report

                Whos claiming to be the expert?
                You told me I know nothing and also claimed that forwards win games.
                To me that sounds like you have your hand firmly wraped around it and think you know more than most.

                Neither are more important and thats why a team has both becuz a team needs both. Thats not rocket science mania, look at the team structure, the team consists of both becuz both are important and needed.
                Do you think a team is made up of backs and forwards for sh#ts and giggles?

                Id like to see how a team of forwards would go against a balanced team of backs and forwards. Who would you pick with all your rugby wisdom Mania, the team made up of just forwards? I can just imagine the prop kicking for territory and slotting a drop goal.

                Pffft, rugby players win games, not exclusively rugby forwards. Why the hell do you think backs exist if they dont help win the game? Like I said, neither are more important becuz without one or the other, your team isnt winning a thing.

              • February 5th 2013 @ 5:18am
                mania said | February 5th 2013 @ 5:18am | ! Report

                HT ignorant much? what your talking smells funny

              • February 5th 2013 @ 5:30am
                Hightackle said | February 5th 2013 @ 5:30am | ! Report

                Yeah saying forwards win games isnt ignorant.
                Mania you are the ignorant one here spouting hate and insults whilst claiming backs are 2nd rate rugby players. Now thats ignorant.
                You do know what that word means dont you?
                Keep the insults up mania, I love that you cant handle it and are throwing a hissy fit.
                Im comfortable with my stance that a team needs both forwards and backs to win. I thought that was obvious but not to rugby experts like mania the hissy fit guru.

              • February 5th 2013 @ 5:34am
                Hightackle said | February 5th 2013 @ 5:34am | ! Report

                Tell me how the 5 sec rule is going to kick in all of a sudden a ruin rugby …in your expert opinion.
                I wouldnt worry though, the halfback isnt a forward and as you pointed out, forwards win games.

              • February 5th 2013 @ 5:35am
                mania said | February 5th 2013 @ 5:35am | ! Report

                wow u just make any sht up that suits u. since when did i say that backs are 2nd rate? since when did i say u dont need backs to win? again talking sht. luckily your opinion doesnt mean sht.
                handle the jandal. again your having a cry and denouncing anyone that doesnt agree with u.
                close minded and ignorant much?

                5 sec rule ? since when has it been mentioned in this article? try and stay focussed.

      • February 5th 2013 @ 1:34pm
        RebelRanger said | February 5th 2013 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

        Tell that to the guys hiring at the Rebels

    • February 4th 2013 @ 8:06am
      allblackfan said | February 4th 2013 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      I was impressed by the size of the crowd

      • February 4th 2013 @ 9:28am
        Working Class rugger said | February 4th 2013 @ 9:28am | ! Report

        I was actually shocked by the size of the crowd. Great to see. Would like to see the Rebels really look to develop Tasmania as a catchment area and begin to engage the state more and more. From the anecdotal evidence of the trial there certainly appears to be a potential market for the game in the Apple Isle.

        • February 4th 2013 @ 9:33am
          Justin2 said | February 4th 2013 @ 9:33am | ! Report

          They need to have Melbourne support them more yet, Tasmania is a secondary thought at best

          • February 4th 2013 @ 1:52pm
            Working Class Rugger said | February 4th 2013 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

            Fine. Let the Tahs work with Tasmania. I certainly wouldn’t mind getting those 10,000 fans on the Tahs bandwagon.

            • February 4th 2013 @ 3:17pm
              Christo the Daddyo said | February 4th 2013 @ 3:17pm | ! Report

              There’s a bandwagon?

              That usually doesn’t happen until after a couple of early wins that tease about a successful Tahs season. That enables us all to jump off the bandwagon during the inevitable second half of the season collapse.

            • February 4th 2013 @ 5:22pm
              Justin2 said | February 4th 2013 @ 5:22pm | ! Report

              Not saying it isnt worth pursuing but they need to firm up the team in there home town first. They cant offer tassie too much at this point except a trial or two.

            • February 4th 2013 @ 8:51pm
              AndyS said | February 4th 2013 @ 8:51pm | ! Report

              It’s the Wallabies should be working with Tasmania, holding their camps there. At least they might develop some cold and wet weather skill that way, instead of sunning it up while training for a winter sport.

              • February 4th 2013 @ 10:52pm
                dcnz said | February 4th 2013 @ 10:52pm | ! Report

                There was a story in the local inner west courier about cheika and co doing a skills session with the drummoyne rugby club. thats what the Tahs need to do more of!

      • February 4th 2013 @ 12:27pm
        Tigranes said | February 4th 2013 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

        so rugby has drawn a bigger crowd than the A-League games played in Tas?????

    • February 4th 2013 @ 8:44am
      Will Sinclair said | February 4th 2013 @ 8:44am | ! Report

      Heard Adam Frier on the radio this morning talking about Izzy, the Tahs and the game in general and he was equally effusive.

      Great to hear it was a success – 10,000 people! Hopefully the ARU can send a meaningful game to Hobart at some point.

      It’s still clear that rugby will have it’s work cut out getting positive air time again this season – just after Frier finished talking up Izzy, the two radio DJs who were interviewing him came out with: ” He should obviously be playing for Parramatta in the NRL though. But I guess that’s another story.”

      Getting the NRL cheerleaders to change their tune is going to be tough.

    • Roar Rookie

      February 4th 2013 @ 9:07am
      josh said | February 4th 2013 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      Union must be an easy game to play.

      • Roar Guru

        February 4th 2013 @ 9:56am
        Redb said | February 4th 2013 @ 9:56am | ! Report


        Does seem that way. Or at least Folau is unable to shake his history and needs to be fed the ball.

        • February 4th 2013 @ 12:17pm
          Justin2 said | February 4th 2013 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

          You walked into that one RedB – league is a puss easy game to play v Union. Me thinks Joshy boy is either a leagueie of AFL lad.

          • Roar Rookie

            February 4th 2013 @ 12:23pm
            josh said | February 4th 2013 @ 12:23pm | ! Report


            • February 4th 2013 @ 12:25pm
              mania said | February 4th 2013 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

              yes josh, union is the easiest game to play on the planet. u run fall down get up and run again.

              • Roar Rookie

                February 4th 2013 @ 12:29pm
                josh said | February 4th 2013 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

                The dig was mainly at Folau’s capacity to learn.

              • February 4th 2013 @ 12:31pm
                mania said | February 4th 2013 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

                o, sorry totally missed that one

          • Roar Guru

            February 4th 2013 @ 2:14pm
            Redb said | February 4th 2013 @ 2:14pm | ! Report


            Not really. I don’t think union is easy and certainly not at the elite level. My point is Folau is not as talented as some beleive, he couldn’t adjust to AFL at all. Compare him to Karmichael Hunt and it’s clear who is the better all round athlete.

            Being fed the ball and finding your own separates the boys from the men.

            • February 4th 2013 @ 5:32pm
              Justin2 said | February 4th 2013 @ 5:32pm | ! Report

              Agree with that Red, no doubt Hunt is a better “sportsmen” from what I have seen.

            • February 4th 2013 @ 9:22pm
              Malo said | February 4th 2013 @ 9:22pm | ! Report

              Karmichael Hunt would not be that good at union, is he that good at AFL? I think the Suns still probably win about one or two games a season, so i dont think Hunt and co have that much of a positive impact. Izzy was always going to excel in rugby. Spiro has no idea, wing would be the worst position for him . I believe the centres is where he will excel, with fullback a possibility. Tahs will definitely go a lot better. Brumbies or tahs to top conference. This better sportsman idea is bs, Just cause QC will probably fight a hack and play crap when he goes to ARL does not make him a great sportsman cause he has played 3 codes. KH is no better athlete cause he has played two sports than someone who excels at league and stays in one sport.

              • February 4th 2013 @ 11:40pm
                Bear said | February 4th 2013 @ 11:40pm | ! Report

                No good at union?? With his union background i hope he would be good at union. You don’t go through the Churchie system if u aren’t any good at Union. Didn’t he play flyhalf in the cup final in france. (In his first season. Id say that makes him a pretty handy rugby union player.

              • February 5th 2013 @ 6:28am
                Toa said | February 5th 2013 @ 6:28am | ! Report

                Agree with Redb,

                Malo, a little bit of research might help.

                In his 1st Rugby season at schoolboy level K made an Instant impact. His 2nd year assisted Churchie to a GPS championship & went on to win the Bob Templeton Medal furthermore the same year was awarded Player of the Series at the National Rugby league Schoolboy carnival. He went to France again made an impact as a reward assisted Biarritz to the Heineken Cup final & pick up the MOM award in a losing team. All this by fast tracking himself to speak French, playing at 10 & finally doing it in 6mths.

                When Israel made the switch to AFL I backed him to succeed, admittedly like yourself and didn’t perform any research. Israel’s highlights got the better of me & I’d refuse to listen to the critics claiming both his defensive & fitness levels were poor. His RL attacking skills were limited in AFL due to his defensive & fitness deficiencies which reflected his inability to process information. As its taking me so long to realise Israel natural talent has its limits the AFL stint pays homage to that fact.

              • Roar Guru

                February 5th 2013 @ 10:04am
                Redb said | February 5th 2013 @ 10:04am | ! Report

                Spot on Toa, decision making skills are critical, Folau is a more an instinct run in a straight line type player.

      • February 4th 2013 @ 12:11pm
        soapit said | February 4th 2013 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

        yeah he was never able to score tries in trial matches in league was he.

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