Why the return of Israel Folau will be a blessing for Michael Cheika

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

By Nicholas Bishop, Nicholas Bishop is a Roar Expert

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    It was a special night. Even though I am not an Australian, I could sense an intangible, special feeling in the air from the moment the Wallabies ran on to the field in their beautifully-designed Indigenous jerseys, and Shannon Ruska began the most heart-felt Welcome to Country speech to date.

    That was the night the Wallabies finally overcame the All Black jinx, by 23 points to 18 in Brisbane.

    Michael Cheika and his coaches struggled to regain the magic of that evening on the subsequent tour of Europe, beating Wales in the opening game but losing heavily to both England and Scotland afterwards.

    Cheika was missing a vital piece of his puzzle, one which has been present for every Australian coach since the series against the British and Irish Lions back in 2013 – Rugby League and AFL convert Israel Folau.

    Every Australian supporter who has been clamouring for Folau to be either dropped completely, or at least shifted from full-back also had an opportunity to see what ‘life without Folau’ would look like on that tour.

    The results were not very encouraging, and there is little doubt that Cheika will welcome Folau ‘back to country’ with open arms for what promises to be a spiky three-Test series against Ireland in June 2018.

    Christmas is a time of beautiful yet bittersweet stories, and it is as good a time as any to dispel some of the myths surrounding the play of the best Australian back of his generation.

    Two of the narratives which have become very popular – but which nonetheless deserve debunking – are that:

    – Folau lacks the application and technique to defend well near his own goal-line or in critical situations, and

    – Folau cannot attack well on right-to-left movements, where the chances to use the lethal sidestep off his right foot tend to be far more limited.

    On the evidence of the third Bledisloe game at Brisbane, neither of these criticisms have a great deal of substance.

    First, to defence. While there are some areas of Folau’s defensive game which could do with fine-tuning, his defence in the red zone and in the scramble after the line has been broken are not two of them.

    When he is up on the end of the line in defence, Folau tends to handle that difficult role with some finesse and excellent reading ability.

    His anticipation of play and ability to disguise his intentions were showcased right at the opening of the second game of the season between Australia and New Zealand in Dunedin back in August.

    New Zealand are on the attack and threatening to score right from the opening kick-off, and they develop a likely-looking overlap out to their right with one of two key distributors, #15 Damian McKenzie ready to pass the ball.

    Disguise is everything in these situations, and in the first frame Folau is partially hidden behind the defender inside him, Henry Speight, from McKenzie’s view.

    He doesn’t rush up and block out the pass, he stays ‘under cover’ waiting for the New Zealand full-back to reveal his hand before breaking on the ball.

    After he does make the intercept, he has more than enough speed to finish the play off, despite the attentions of Ben Smith and Beauden Barrett.

    There was another good example of Folau defending the edge well early in the second half of the game in Brisbane.

    Once again, the All Blacks have a temporary three-on-two overlap in this attacking phase only a few metres out from the Australian goal-line. At the two key moments, Folau alters his stance and makes the right decision.

    It looks at first from Folau’s stance (with outside foot up) that he wants to break in on the McKenzie pass again, but by the second frame he has measured the space accurately, can see he won’t get there in time, and has dropped off into a short drift (inside foot up).

    When Marika Koroibete makes the tackle on Ryan Crotty, Folau is therefore free to jackal for the ball on the floor, and he slows up the New Zealand ruck sufficiently to force a timing issue on the next phase, the pass from Aaron Smith finding grass with the pressure relieved. Australia turned the ball over later in the sequence.

    Folau’s work in scramble defence shows that he has the grit to go with his intelligence.

    Naholo has broken the first line of defence from a lineout move, but when Crotty goes to make the key pass out of contact which would convert “clean break” to “try” he finds Folau blocking the passing lane!

    The Wallaby full-back is successfully blocking out not one, but two unmarked Kiwi attackers outside him, Lima Sopoaga and Rieko Ioane.

    The ball was spoiled at the ensuing ruck and Australia escaped unharmed from a situation where New Zealand would typically expect to put their opponents away with clinical precision.

    Here New Zealand have made a long break up the right side-line and, as the last line of defence, only Folau stands between Aaron Smith and an All Black score.

    A desperate ankle-tap sends Smith tumbling to the floor and captain Kieran Read is penalized for an illegal cleanout on Kurtley Beale at the next ruck. Meanwhile, Folau has reloaded in time to compete for the ball on the ground against Sam Cane.

    The other major criticism of Folau, that he does not attack with anything like the same impact on the left side of the field as he does on the right, also lacked foundation at Bledisloe III.

    Two of Australia’s tries came directly from right-to-left movements in which Israel Folau was the key attacker.

    See tries in the 39th and 55th minutes.

    It is hard to find anyone else in the world who can match Folau’s ability to attract the last defender – either delivering a scoring pass or taking the gap himself – so consistently.

    The example at the end of the first half is relatively straightforward, with Waisake Naholo outgunned by Wallaby numbers on the left edge of the field and Folau able to take the gap between him and Liam Squire.

    But the second instance is a thing of beauty. New Zealand have numbered up, with Naholo marking Folau on the inside shoulder and McKenzie covering Koroibete further out.

    The following two frames illustrate Folau’s genius on the flank where he is supposed to have no tricks up his sleeve.

    New Zealand have what they want defensively – almost. It is a straight two-on-two with Naholo and McKenzie marking Folau and Koroibete.

    But it is only ‘almost’, because Folau has space in which to operate. Naholo is inviting Folau to take the outside, and perhaps surprisingly, Folau has the acceleration to take it.

    His first three strides – quicker than you’d expect from such a big man – enable him to turn the corner around Naholo, engage McKenzie’s eyes and create enough space for Koroibete to finish the move.

    A sequence in 43rd minute reinforced the impression that Folau’s ability to attack down the left-hand side is just as potent as it is on the right.

    Again New Zealand seem to have all the bases covered defensively. They have two defenders bracketing Folau and he can’t use his right foot step.

    But Folau uses a move off his ‘wrong’ foot instead to beat the first (Sonny Bill Williams), and his strength to bump off the second (Sopoaga), before delivering a wonderful offload to put Koroibete away, just as he hits dirt and his run seems to be dying.

    There is no doubt that Australia missed Israel Folau badly on their end-of-year tour.

    They missed his telepathic interplay with Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley on attack, but they also missed his ability to play in areas of the game where – according to some popular opinion – he is supposed to be deficient!

    His accurate defence on the edge of the field was crucial on two or three occasions to Australia’s success against New Zealand in Brisbane, and his capacity to attack right-to-left created two of the Wallaby tries.

    Folau is as close to being an irreplaceable asset as there is in the Australian side, and Michael Cheika will welcome his return to the national team as an unreserved Christmas/New Year blessing.

    Nicholas Bishop
    Nicholas Bishop

    Nick Bishop has worked as a rugby analyst and advisor to Graham Henry (1999-2003), Mike Ruddock (2004-2005) and most recently Stuart Lancaster (2011-2015). He also worked on the 2001 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia and produced his first rugby book with Graham Henry at the end of the tour. Three more rugby books have followed, all of which of have either been nominated for or won national sports book awards. Nick?s latest is a biography of Phil Larder, the first top Rugby League coach to successfully transfer over to Union, entitled ?The Iron Curtain?. He is currently writing articles for The Roar and The Rugby Site, and working as a strategy consultant to Stuart Lancaster and the Leinster coaching staff for their European matches.

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    The Crowd Says (295)

    • December 27th 2017 @ 6:30am
      Kane said | December 27th 2017 @ 6:30am | ! Report

      You’ve shown the instances where he makes the tackle, but you’ve not shown any where he hasn’t.

      It’s like saying Kurtley is perfect under the high ball and showing several instances where he’s caught it but ignoring the other instances where he dropped it?

      I would have liked to have seen you present some cases where it has looked like Folau’s fault that the opposition has scored and you show that it wasn’t? Maybe even the try Reiko scored by standing him up in Sydney?

      I believe the main narrative that comes to mind when people speak of Folau is his lack of an effective kicking game. Now whether that can be debunked or not I don’t know.

      Merry Christmas

      • Columnist

        December 27th 2017 @ 6:47am
        Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 6:47am | ! Report

        Tbh Kane I went into the article with an open mind, to look at Folau’s game without knowing which aspect I would be looking at in advance.

        It came as a surprise to note the important contributions he made on defence – and I even had to omit one or two others! His successes were far more typical than his failures – even on one of the AB tries in the highlight.

        If you think I’ve missed those failures, I’m happy for you to point out where they are 🙂

        I looked at Ioane’s try in this article http://www.theroar.com.au/2017/08/23/wallabies-defensive-woes-show-need-connectivity-communication/ – I’m not sold on the story the try was Folau’s fault.

        I’d agree that Folau’s kicking game could be improved, as well as his work in contact – but the rest is in pretty good health!

        • December 27th 2017 @ 8:27am
          Kane said | December 27th 2017 @ 8:27am | ! Report

          I had a look back at that article and nowhere do you mention Folau. You do however mention at the time ” It is a positive situation for the Wallabies, and there are six defenders against three attackers in the last shot from behind the posts.”

          The picture you show has four Wallabies marking Barrett and Folau marking Reiko. Folau then turns in to make it 5 marking Barrett and lets Reiko stroll round him. I’m interested to hear your opinion on why Folau wasn’t in the wrong here and who’s fault was this try?

          • Columnist

            December 27th 2017 @ 5:49pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 5:49pm | ! Report

            If you read the article I say that I think Will Genia was in a position to push much further out into the last passing lane and cut off the play – but he seems uncertain what to do, and is therefore wasted as a defender. If Genia pushes hard, the final defender (Folau) has to go with him, so he dictates the play.

            • December 27th 2017 @ 7:24pm
              Kane said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:24pm | ! Report

              I did read the article but your response doesn’t explain why Folau came in.

              He had no right to leave Reiko unmarked when four other Wallabies had the ball carrier marked.

              Genia’s not wasted as a defender. Yes maybe he should have rushed up but as he didn’t he still in the defensive line to secure Barrett. There is no way Barrett is getting through there. (Well he shouldn’t).

              Folau leaving Reiko unmarked is his fault and his mistake directly resulted in the try being scored.

              I don’t understand how/why you believe he’s not at fault here?

              • Columnist

                December 27th 2017 @ 7:36pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:36pm | ! Report

                It’s about systems working properly Kane.

                The WB’s have the numbers (whether you call it 6 on 3 or 4 on 2 in the relevant space) so they can push up more quickly and shut the pass from Barrett to Ioane down. That’s what a rush defence is striving for.

                The underlying issue is that Genia stops pushing upfield and sits back on Barrett. If he’d continued to push he would have pulled Sio (inside) and Folau (outside) up with him and the pass would have been swamped.

                By backing off, he exposes Folau to a one-on-one with Ioane in the wrong stance. Folau is expecting to be able to push upfield, not to have to move sideways, and that’s why he gets caught. But the problem happened inside him first.

              • December 28th 2017 @ 8:06am
                Kane said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:06am | ! Report

                “By backing off, he exposes Folau to a one-on-one with Ioane in the wrong stance.”

                I disagree, it wasn’t a 1v1 as Folau was ball watching and had only eyes for Barrett. It was a 1 v none with Folau coming across on the cover.

                Folau wasn’t caught in the wrong stance he was caught facing the wrong player.

                The fact that he still laid hands on him close to the touch line shows that had he actually stayed on his man it’s highly unlikely that a try would have been scored.

                Yes I agree Genia made mistakes here but Folau did too. Genia’s mistakes didn’t directly result in a try, Folau’s did.

              • Columnist

                December 28th 2017 @ 8:20am
                Nicholas Bishop said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:20am | ! Report

                Well I’ve tried to explain how the Australian D is intended to work, clearly without much success!

                Take a look at the first example in the article again (the Folau intercept score), and you’ll see how a well-executed rush D can work – it is about attacking gaps, not man marking… If Genia has pushed harder, the same thing might have happened on this play too.

              • December 28th 2017 @ 8:35am
                Kane said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:35am | ! Report

                Lets agree to disagree.

        • Roar Guru

          December 27th 2017 @ 8:28am
          PeterK said | December 27th 2017 @ 8:28am | ! Report

          totally agree

          Folau seems to be a player many aussies and kiwis have targeted unfairly.

          He is far more appreciated in the NH.

          Aussies either resent league players , or commonly tall poppy sydrome, and many kiwis react if folau is rated higher than their players.

          I have pointed out the NH tour showed how much Folau was missed, especially for handling the highball at the back.

          Your article shows that Folau competes at the breakdown as well which is often missed.

          • Columnist

            December 27th 2017 @ 9:12am
            Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:12am | ! Report

            I think IF is still improving certain aspects of his play Peter, and a great player who is still willing to work at his game in the second half of his career is huge asset to any team. Witness Ben Smith for the AB’s, Folau’s greatest contemporary.

          • December 28th 2017 @ 12:40am
            double agent said | December 28th 2017 @ 12:40am | ! Report

            His absence on the UK tour was HUGE. We might have won some games if he was there.

            • December 28th 2017 @ 3:24pm
              Jacko said | December 28th 2017 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

              So you believe if Folau had played against England and Scotland Aus would have won???
              24 points difference v England
              29 Points difference v Scotland

              Cant help but feel your opinion of Folau is very distorted if you believe he would have turned those results into wins

        • Roar Guru

          December 27th 2017 @ 8:35am
          PeterK said | December 27th 2017 @ 8:35am | ! Report

          NB – The other narrative is that Folau has poor positional play.

          IMO that isn’t the case because when he last defended solely at f/b was in 2015 and his positional play in defense, under the highball was very good in the rc.

          In 2016 and 2017 he has played more a roving wing role in defense and is positioned more on a wing than at f/b so yes it looks like he is out of position as a f/b because he is in fact on the wing most of the time.

          • Roar Guru

            December 27th 2017 @ 8:47am
            Machooka said | December 27th 2017 @ 8:47am | ! Report

            Correct Pete… and well pointed out. Suffice to say, every player, at times, looks out of position in the defensive backline when playing for the Wallaby!

            Happy NY to you and yours Pete… and hope we all have a successful season ahead 🙂

            • Roar Guru

              December 27th 2017 @ 9:02am
              PeterK said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:02am | ! Report

              thanks, happy ny to you as well

          • Columnist

            December 27th 2017 @ 9:13am
            Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:13am | ! Report

            He prob has better instincts in line defence than he does in the backfield Peter – although it can be hard to tell how much is individual error and how much is system error…

          • December 27th 2017 @ 11:36am
            hello said | December 27th 2017 @ 11:36am | ! Report

            agree PeterK
            I ca no longer work out if anyone is out of position with the current defensive system we use

        • December 27th 2017 @ 9:35am
          Kane said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:35am | ! Report

          Thanks Nicholas, I’ve replied but it appears to moderated…

          • Columnist

            December 27th 2017 @ 9:39am
            Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:39am | ! Report

            okay – the gist? 🙂

            • December 27th 2017 @ 10:36am
              Kane said | December 27th 2017 @ 10:36am | ! Report

              You didn’t seem to mention Folau in that article you listed.

              You showed a photo with four men on Barrett and Folau on Reiko, yet Folau turns in toward Barrett making it 5 on 1 and Reiko goes around him. Interested to hear how Folau wasn’t in the wrong here and whos fault it was?

              • Roar Guru

                December 27th 2017 @ 12:32pm
                PeterK said | December 27th 2017 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

                Read between the lines

                should allow Sio to attack Barrett directly and Genia to flood up into the space between Barrett and his only receiving option (Rieko Ioane) and block the path of the pass.

                At least, that’s what Andy Farrell’s Lions would have done. Instead, the Wallabies stand off and wait for the All Black magic to happen.

                The whole defensive response was wrong in being passive.
                Then in detail Sio didn’t move on Barret and Genia didn’t get in between the pass.

              • December 27th 2017 @ 1:27pm
                Kane said | December 27th 2017 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

                Regardless of the system being passive why did Folau move off a man and leave him unmarked to jon four others marking up on another player?

                Any player with half a defensive brain would not have done that regardless of what defensive system they were using at the time. You’ve got to be able to think on your feet if situations change. Folau did here and did the wrong thing. That try resulted from his mistake. Yes Genia et al could have done something different but at the very worst Ioane should have had a one on one with Folau. What he did have was an open line.

              • December 27th 2017 @ 2:29pm
                Winston said | December 27th 2017 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

                I guess it’s a refusal to say anything negative against IF. He got schooled by Reiko.

            • Columnist

              December 27th 2017 @ 5:52pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 5:52pm | ! Report

              As above Kane. The inside man dictates the play on D – if Genia pushes harder, there is no way that ball should ever reach Ioane.

              • December 27th 2017 @ 7:26pm
                Kane said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:26pm | ! Report

                Still doesn’t explain why Folau moved off Reiko to make it 5 on Barrett instead of 4.

                Folau is at fault there and his mistake caused the try. Had he not moved in it would have been a 1v1.

                Tell me when, if ever, should you leave a winger unmarked to gang up on the inside man when he’s already marked by four others?

              • Columnist

                December 27th 2017 @ 7:42pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:42pm | ! Report

                I’ve tried to explain it Kane – it’s about expectation and what is expected from each defender. There should be no need for Folau to ‘mark’ Ioane at all in the given situation. He gets stood up because he’s expecting something diff from the defenders inside him – so the system wasn’t working.

              • December 28th 2017 @ 8:08am
                Kane said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:08am | ! Report

                No need to mark Ioane?

                When you have 5v2 or 6v3 the right call is to not use one of your defenders to mark one of the most leathal outside backs in world rugby?

              • Columnist

                December 28th 2017 @ 8:22am
                Nicholas Bishop said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:22am | ! Report

                Is Folau marking the All Black outside backs on his intercept try?

              • December 28th 2017 @ 8:42am
                Kane said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:42am | ! Report

                No he’s not, as you said there is an overlap.

                If Folau marks the outside back then the centre stolls in.

                Surely you don’t see those two situations as like for like 4Av3D and 2Av5D?

              • Columnist

                December 28th 2017 @ 8:48am
                Nicholas Bishop said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

                It’s about what Australia are trying to do defensively Kane – the point is that Australia want to attack the space between passer and catcher. In the first game Genia doesn’t do it (try conceded), in the third Folau does (try scored).

        • December 27th 2017 @ 4:00pm
          mzillikazi said | December 27th 2017 @ 4:00pm | ! Report

          “I’m not sold on the story the try was Folau’s fault.” My first reaction on looking at that try was to give credit to the amazing ability of Reiko Ioane, being able to score in that situation. And after many reviews, that initial reaction has only been strengthened.

          Reminds me a bit of a try scored long ago in Brisbane by Jason Robinson, beating the very capable Chris Latham.

          • Columnist

            December 27th 2017 @ 5:54pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 5:54pm | ! Report

            I think that’s other key point MZ – you have to give credit to Ioane’s first step. Edge defenders are often exposed in these situations, and on occasion they will get beaten – a bit like cornerbacks in American Football. Although I do feel this one was preventable with better co-ordination!

            • December 27th 2017 @ 7:27pm
              Kane said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:27pm | ! Report

              It was preventable by marking your man.

              • Roar Guru

                December 28th 2017 @ 1:30am
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | December 28th 2017 @ 1:30am | ! Report

                You sure win gold in the Olympic games of stubbornness Kane. But you make some good arguments, so I say fair play.

                Tend to agree with Nich though, great play by the AB’s, and with a little headstart, no-one beats Rieko these days.

              • December 28th 2017 @ 8:11am
                Kane said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:11am | ! Report

                Thanks NVFS i’ll take that as a compliment.

                My point is the fact the head start was given in the first place allowed the try. I don’t think he would have scored had Folau stayed on him. I also don’t believe he had any business lining up Barrett. He didn’t trust his inside men and got burnt for it.

              • December 28th 2017 @ 3:29pm
                Jacko said | December 28th 2017 @ 3:29pm | ! Report

                Thats the whole point tho…..Reiko did not have a little head start…Folau goes in on the inside and then when Reiko gets the ball he totally smokes Folau thru a space that should never have existed, and was tiny.

                Folau got it wrong…Very easy to see

    • Roar Guru

      December 27th 2017 @ 7:35am
      Machooka said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:35am | ! Report

      Thanks Nicholas… and thanks again for an article that dispels popular myth, and counters it with fact not fiction.

      I suppose it’s an Aussie thingy… the old tall poppy syndrome thingy when it comes to players like Izzy, and I’ve gotta say it does my head in. If you can’t see the worth of Izzy, then you can’t see. Period.

      He’s not the best of the best, but on his day he’s one of the best. And any team would want him.

      I hope you enjoyed your Christmas… and, likewise, all the very best for 2018.

      Happy New Year to all ROARers!

      • Columnist

        December 27th 2017 @ 7:38am
        Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:38am | ! Report

        You must have read my mind Chook – the ‘tall poppy’ syndrome occurred to me too while thinking about the article…

        As you say, Izzy is one of the best, and in any company.

        Happy Xmas and NY to you and yours!

        • Roar Guru

          December 27th 2017 @ 9:05am
          Machooka said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:05am | ! Report

          I forgot to mention my appreciation regards your comments about the BrisVegas Test v the almighty ABs… the Indigenous jersey was superb.

          Likewise, the Welcome to Country was the best I’ve heard. Thanks for the shout-out… and I’m really happy that ‘magic’ came through whilst you watched from far flung shores 😉

          • Columnist

            December 27th 2017 @ 9:10am
            Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:10am | ! Report

            Yep it really made me sit upright, esp when Shannon Ruska whooped out the indigenous greeting in his address Chook!

        • December 27th 2017 @ 12:50pm
          Ruckin Oaf said | December 27th 2017 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

          Part of the problem could be that when a fullback misses a tackle or makes a miss in defence it’s quite often a try. Lot’s of replays in slow mo showing the error over an over again.

          • Roar Guru

            December 27th 2017 @ 2:50pm
            The Neutral View From Sweden said | December 27th 2017 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

            Very valid point RO.
            There is a public/official “narrative” that follows every post-game analysis.
            There is seldom time or interest to go any deeper.

            A glaring example was Test number two in the Lions series when a lot of pundits and Roarers went on about that Itoje was a loose cannon and cost the Lions points etc. But anyone who bothered to watch the game in detail could see that the great Brodie Retallick caused the same amount of penalties as Itoje – two each – but Brodie’s penalties were costly hence the Lions got six points from them, while the AB’s got zero points from Itoje’s infringements.

            • Columnist

              December 27th 2017 @ 5:59pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 5:59pm | ! Report

              …And this is what the better coaches will do NV – weight up the real importance of the pens given away, not just look at the stats. Likewise missed tackles.

              So a D coach would look at all the aspects of Ioane’s try, and from his viewpoint I think that first of all he’d be looking to improve the D of the blokes inside Folau.

              • Roar Guru

                December 27th 2017 @ 6:58pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | December 27th 2017 @ 6:58pm | ! Report

                It might seem provocative to use an example with Brodie against Itoje, but in this context, I say it is not… Point is, normal stats et al. means nothing and only a trained coach eye will really see what makes a real difference…

          • Columnist

            December 27th 2017 @ 5:56pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 5:56pm | ! Report

            This seems an obvious point, but it’s very important RO. There are not as many situations on the field nowadays as there used to be where “if I make a mistake, it will cost my team seven points”. But the end defender (or full-back where he’s back there on his own) can be one of them!

    • December 27th 2017 @ 7:36am
      Galatzo said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:36am | ! Report

      Seasons Greetings, Nicholas, from me and Mrs Dai Bread and the wise cats that didn’t come. It must be admitted that the Wallabies that toured were only on the edge of competence, and the lack of two such outstanding players as Folau and Pocock stood out like a Broadway neon. Folau’s absence was particularly felt as he’s the breakaway guy and the try scorer. I watched some of the earlier games you illustrate with a pal from the States who’s unfamiliar with rugby and he said of Folau, “That guy’s a great runner and if he got a walkon with most NFL teams they’d grab him as a tight end.”
      High praise indeed as my friend is deep within one of the NFL franchises.

      • Columnist

        December 27th 2017 @ 10:05am
        Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 10:05am | ! Report

        Yes G, that comparison with the NFL is always a telling one.

        Folau could make an excellent TE or wide receiver over there, a big target in the Randy Moss mould!

        Guys like Pocock and Folau get some stick don’t they… but when they’re not there the gaps start to show.

        Happy New Year to you and Mrs Dai Bread 😀

        • December 27th 2017 @ 12:00pm
          Kane said | December 27th 2017 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

          Agree he could make a good tight end but he lacks the acceleration and outright speed to be a wide receiver.

          • Roar Guru

            December 27th 2017 @ 12:34pm
            PeterK said | December 27th 2017 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

            Agree, NFL not being my forte would Folau make a good fullback or running back or a kick returner in NFL?

            • December 27th 2017 @ 11:06pm
              Mike said | December 27th 2017 @ 11:06pm | ! Report

              Nope. Not strong or fast enough

          • Roar Guru

            December 27th 2017 @ 2:57pm
            The Neutral View From Sweden said | December 27th 2017 @ 2:57pm | ! Report

            Speed is far from the most valued skill for a WR in NFL. And to help you understand that, how many times does a WR actually get a clean run? I basically never happens. Jerry Rice was fast, but his main thi8ng was his aerial power, amazing hands and a sharp brain that could read the game.
            Folau’s aerial skills, power, and balance would be a huge asset for any NFL team, especially since you are not really allowed to tackle or infringe with a WR, when the QB goes downtown.

            • December 27th 2017 @ 4:12pm
              Kane said | December 27th 2017 @ 4:12pm | ! Report

              The best WR’s have time, they have time because they run their lines quickly and have beaten their defender. I don’t think Izzy would be quick enough, or agile enough to turn on a spot to be a successful WR.

              I believe he could be a valuable TE

              • Roar Guru

                December 27th 2017 @ 4:28pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | December 27th 2017 @ 4:28pm | ! Report

                Get real mate. if you know anything about NFL. The defense marking a WR in NFL is just as fast runners. If you watch NFL regularly, you should know that.The skills that make a difference in the NFL is not speed.

              • December 27th 2017 @ 7:31pm
                Kane said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:31pm | ! Report

                Yes they are just as fast but they are always following.

                Would Odell be as good if he ran 40 yards in 5.4 instead of 4.4?

                Folau can’t turn on a dime, he takes a while to wind up. He’d be good in the end zone on a Hail Mary.

            • Columnist

              December 27th 2017 @ 6:03pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 6:03pm | ! Report

              Yep, guys like Moss were the first to introduce the idea of the big WR (typically about 6’5 and 220lbs) to the NFL. QB’s threw the ball and they went up for it over any opponent one on one. They lacked burning speed but defenders couldn’t stop ’em. Your typical NFL corner is far smaller than that build.

          • Columnist

            December 27th 2017 @ 6:01pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 6:01pm | ! Report

            Moss wasn’t that fast, and there are plenty of other WRs who lack top-end gas. Folau would catch balls because of his great athleticism and skills, and he’d be a threat after the catch.

            • December 27th 2017 @ 8:11pm
              Nakule said | December 27th 2017 @ 8:11pm | ! Report

              Hi Nicholas – Like your article, and agree that Folou would make a good WR. A fact check on the above statement though, Randy Moss was very fast, ran a 4.25 second 40 yard, and even a 10.94 second 100m at the age of 15.

              Folou would be a possession receiver. It’s hard to know how fast rugby players are in comparison to NFL players – but I do know that George North ran a 4.5 second 40 meter time (i.e 44 yards). I’d expect Folou to be a bit slower than George.

              • Roar Guru

                December 28th 2017 @ 12:03am
                Harry Jones said | December 28th 2017 @ 12:03am | ! Report

                NFL teams won’t draft or sign WRs who exceed 4.7 in the 40 because they can’t get separation even from LBs and thus cannot spread the field. Very few can “only” run 4.6 because there’s too many sub-4.6 to choose from. Folau would beef up and be a fairly quick-agile TE or H-back. But he’d need to learn to run-block.

              • Columnist

                December 28th 2017 @ 12:40am
                Nicholas Bishop said | December 28th 2017 @ 12:40am | ! Report

                I don’t know what Folau’s 40 yard dash would be Harry – but some of the slow ones have been football-great…. Jerry Rice 4.71, Anquan Boldin the same, Wes Welker 4.65, Cris Carter 4.65… Go figure!

              • Roar Guru

                December 28th 2017 @ 6:04am
                Harry Jones said | December 28th 2017 @ 6:04am | ! Report

                I know, NB!

                But even Jerry Rice admits he and Mike Irvin wouldn’t get drafted now.

                Tyranny of the Metrics!

              • Columnist

                December 28th 2017 @ 6:42am
                Nicholas Bishop said | December 28th 2017 @ 6:42am | ! Report

                It is tyranny indeed H.

              • Columnist

                December 28th 2017 @ 12:42am
                Nicholas Bishop said | December 28th 2017 @ 12:42am | ! Report

                Thanks for the Moss info Nak, didn’t know he was that quick! Would be interesting to test rugby players over that distance. Scrum-halves the quickest?

              • Roar Guru

                December 28th 2017 @ 1:56am
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | December 28th 2017 @ 1:56am | ! Report

                I say the 40 meter stat is “pointless”, hence what really matters is:

                a) ability to step sideways at full speed
                b) “insane” few steps to reach close (90%) to max speed
                c) great hands
                d) student and reader of the game (not to be overrated, the coaches has massive influence),

              • December 28th 2017 @ 8:15am
                Kane said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

                a) ability to step sideways at full speed

                Folau tends to slow right down before making any lateral movements

                b) “insane” few steps to reach close (90%) to max speed

                Again I don’t think this is Folau, he tends to take a while to wind up.

                c) great hands

                This is Folau. His ability to offload will largely be irrelevant in NFL however.

                d) student and reader of the game (not to be overrated, the coaches has massive influence),

                Won’t make a final judgement on Folau here. I don’t think he’s learnt Rugby as well as he could have but that might be to do with some of his coaches. However had he played NFL his entire life then its possible.

              • January 2nd 2018 @ 12:56am
                Drongo said | January 2nd 2018 @ 12:56am | ! Report

                Wow, he is still going. No one us listening to you mate. Are you drunk?

        • December 27th 2017 @ 6:48pm
          Perthstayer said | December 27th 2017 @ 6:48pm | ! Report

          Hi NB,

          I said pre tour that no Folau meant poor results. He scored over 30% tries in 2018 yet I generated some “abrupt” replies.

          Reliance on one player is crazy. Cheika needs plan B, and not like the one he has for fly half!!

          • Columnist

            December 27th 2017 @ 6:56pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 6:56pm | ! Report

            It was probably a good thing that Cheika experimented with that period without Folau though PS. Necessary for him (to find alternatives) and necessary for Folau – to take a break from the physical and mental wear & tear.

            • December 27th 2017 @ 7:17pm
              Perthstayer said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:17pm | ! Report

              Given the experiments failed I’m interested to hear your thoughts on how Cheika goes from here in seeking a back up?

              Somehow rotate Folau through 2018? This is a difficult conundrum for any coach so I’m not bagging Cheika but he is so key there does need to be a Plan B.

              • Columnist

                December 27th 2017 @ 7:47pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:47pm | ! Report

                He’s got to decide how he can best replace what Folau brings through picking the right balance of outside backs PS (i.e. 11, 13, 14 and 15).

    • December 27th 2017 @ 8:46am
      Lostintokyo said | December 27th 2017 @ 8:46am | ! Report

      Merry Christmas Nick. “The best Australian back of his generation”- I agree with this assessment and the stats back this up.

      His ability to beat the first man and his skills in the air are second to none.

      Pity he did not participate in the end of year tour as he was on track to beat the world record for rugby international tries in a season. And it certainly would have helped the Wallabies cause. He will be welcomed back.

      • Columnist

        December 27th 2017 @ 6:07pm
        Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 6:07pm | ! Report

        Thanks Lost. It’s a tribute to his skill-set that he was even considered at 12 or 13 for the national team without having played there previously. Ben Smith is the only other top player of recent vintage I can think of who’s made that change (he played one season at 13 for the AB’s) and those two are of similar stratospheric standard!

        That doesn’t tend to happen in the modern game.

    • December 27th 2017 @ 9:23am
      adastra32 said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

      No doubting Folau’s talent – whatever the rights and wrongs of whether he is this or that. If I were a WB fan, it would just worry me that so much apparently hangs on if this one guy plays (well) or not.

      • Columnist

        December 27th 2017 @ 6:09pm
        Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 6:09pm | ! Report

        Don’t teams always depend on their top players though Ad? Take Kieran Read out of NZ, and Owen Farrell out of England, and the effect is similar. Fortunately England haven’t stumbled over that situation yet.

        • December 27th 2017 @ 9:06pm
          adastra32 said | December 27th 2017 @ 9:06pm | ! Report

          True – however to what extent is the dependence Nick? I have a feeling that England would adapt and still win without Farrell. Many were bemoaning a team with no Billy V (and before that Tuilagi). So far, the team has adapted and maintained form.

          • Columnist

            December 27th 2017 @ 10:52pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 10:52pm | ! Report

            Of all the England players Eddie would not want to lose, I think OF would be top of the list. Hard to think of a replacement who ticks all of the boxes behind him…

    • December 27th 2017 @ 10:15am
      Rhys Bosley said | December 27th 2017 @ 10:15am | ! Report

      Folau wouldn’t have made a winning difference to those end of year tour floggings by England and Scotland, the Wallabies were comprehensively outplayed by better drilled teams that used better tactics. Just like they were over the previous year by England, Ireland and Scotland, all games where Folau was present. And one or two decent games in defence doesn’t make up for all the times that he has gone missing or the fact that after nearly five years as a rugby fullback, Folau still has no kicking game.

      The reason that people get annoyed at him is that he gets paid over a million dollars a year, which means that he should get everything right or near too it. I don’t think it is tall poppy syndrome, nobody would begrudge him being rewarded for his talent if he was consistent, but get rightly angry when a player on such good money is cruising and when the money could be used to develop the game elsewhere.

      Unfortunately though Folau represents a wider cultural problem in the Wallabies, where they field players who are gifted in one or two aspects of the game, but who are deficient in other areas that would be considered essential elsewhere. Aside from Folau not being able to kick, other examples of our “star’s” failures are that Pocock is still a poor attacking player who can’t pass left to right or draw a defender and offload, Beale still has brain fades like the one where he failed to shepherd the ball out during the English game, Foley has no kicking game and has streaks of misses at goal, and Genia still can’t box kick without being charged down.

      The number of gifted but flawed players that Australia seems to produce has kept us doing pretty well against most nations except New Zealand until now. However, with good coaches from the Southern Hemisphere moving to the Northern Unions, the Wallabies aren’t getting away with this any more and i think it is only going to get worse for them over the next couple of years. I can’t see them doing very well in the next World Cup unless something changes dramatically, but that isn’t going to happen as we have a deeply ingrained urge to blow smoke up the backsides of these guys, which is why they never really develop to be the players they should be.

      Some people need to learn the hard way.

      • Roar Guru

        December 27th 2017 @ 12:40pm
        PeterK said | December 27th 2017 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

        scotland and england beat the wallabies by record scores when folau didn’t play so at least he made a difference to the margin of the loss comparing the games.

        • December 27th 2017 @ 2:18pm
          Rhys Bosley said | December 27th 2017 @ 2:18pm | ! Report

          The Wallabies lost by almost as much as the England match this year, as they did in game two last year, primarily because they lack the kicking game for wet weather footy. Folau isn’t a useful contributor under those conditions.

        • December 27th 2017 @ 2:34pm
          Cliff (Bishkek) said | December 27th 2017 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

          PK, that is absolute poppycock. Sorry my friend but in all cases, there are 15 men on the field and the loss of one man should not impact a whole team. The Wallabies are a team of 75 percenters; they get all aspects of their roles correct 75% of the time.

          Folau present during the losses when he was available – the fault of 15 men.

          Folau not present during the EOYT – would not have made a crack of difference – because – the other 14 were damn useless.

          When the Wallabies become a team of 15 (or 23) with players able to carry out all their required skills and positional roles, then the Wallabies will start to win games. The win against the ABs, as much as it was great, I am starting to think, because of the way we were beaten against England and Scotland, that the ABs had a “off night” and the Wallabies fared better. I see no other explanation because a team on the improve, with Coaches, Players, Defence and Attack supposedly improved with the AB game, then they should not have been overawed or beaten by the England or Scottish Teams.

          The Wallabies – have not improved. They are spinning wheels.

      • Roar Guru

        December 27th 2017 @ 12:42pm
        PeterK said | December 27th 2017 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

        also Folau CAN kick, the game plan just calls for him to run it.

        He can kick long and with reasonable accuracy, lack s a short kicking game and he needs time to wind up his kick just like Hodge does.

        • December 27th 2017 @ 2:14pm
          Rhys Bosley said | December 27th 2017 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

          When he gets caught on the right hand sideline it often only makes four or five metres before going out, because he lacks the accuracy to send it almost parallel to the sideline line Ben Smith does. It is s major disadvantage.

          • Roar Guru

            December 27th 2017 @ 2:45pm
            PeterK said | December 27th 2017 @ 2:45pm | ! Report


      • Roar Guru

        December 27th 2017 @ 3:02pm
        The Neutral View From Sweden said | December 27th 2017 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

        Folau wouldn’t have made a winning difference to those end of year tour floggings by England and Scotland.

        Probably not against Scotland, but the England game was in the balance after 70 minutes, so to say dead certain that he would not have made a difference at Twickenham is a bit rich.

        And the losses to England and Scotland in OZ were no floggings, just losses in proper Tests that were in the balance for almost the full 80 minutes.

        Some people need to learn the hard way.

        We will see about that…

        • December 27th 2017 @ 6:14pm
          Rhys Bosley said | December 27th 2017 @ 6:14pm | ! Report

          “And the losses to England and Scotland in OZ were no floggings”

          You know you are watching rugby and not cricket, right?

          • Roar Guru

            December 28th 2017 @ 2:16am
            The Neutral View From Sweden said | December 28th 2017 @ 2:16am | ! Report

            I do mate. This Swede even knows some cricket. Playing every weekend as a matter of fact. Loving it.

            So what did I say? “And the losses to England and Scotland in OZ were no floggings” That is it? OK?

            So what were the scores in the three lost Tests against England in OZ?

            28-39, 7-23, and 40-44.

            And against Scotland in OZ?



            • December 28th 2017 @ 11:04am
              Rhys Bosley said | December 28th 2017 @ 11:04am | ! Report

              My bad, I didn’t read the “in Oz” caveat properly, but the point bisvthat we still lost against teams who don’t usually beat us at home.

        • December 27th 2017 @ 7:48pm
          Taylorman said | December 27th 2017 @ 7:48pm | ! Report

          Na, they were floggings, Oz were stuffed and their subs were never up to matching the oppositions.
          Its no coincidence Scotland and England ran away against the same side in the last ten’s of their season.
          Folau might have made a difference when they were competitive earlier but the ease of going away was a result of the first seventy.

          Theres no doubting Folau is a world class player and I had him fave for the player of the year at the third bled match, partially due to others falling off. Folau ‘can’ be defensively missing, on occasion, it wouldnt take long to scrounge around for examples of him out of position and he doesnt have a great tactical boot, but those are minors and are only worth mentioning when trying to pick THE best fullback.

          He’s been critical to Ozs success over the past few seasons and will be again next year. Hes without doubt the player you least want the ball with space in front of him in opposition and that includes Beale.

          Nicks found some very good ‘reads’ here where Folau has a spoil before it happens style in defence so the criticism is a little over the top if its meant in a general sense, where its more an ‘on occasion’ like most players thats more correct.

          Overall, still think either he or Ioane should have got the POTY based on 2017 alone.

      • Columnist

        December 27th 2017 @ 6:15pm
        Nicholas Bishop said | December 27th 2017 @ 6:15pm | ! Report

        Some legitimate points in there Rhys.

        The problem of players emerging at the top level without complete skill-sets affects almost every country bar New Zealand. I think one of the great secrets of the All Blacks success has been the ability of their coaching staff to improve guys once they get to that level. Nonu was one example when they moved him into 12, Ben Smith’s kicking game was another. They wanted him to move to 15, but he needed a kicking game to do it, and they coached it into him. I always recall the shock at sitting down to analyze NZ one year and finding that Smith now knew how, where and when to kick the ball at Test level!

        Otherwise, you hope that the positives outweigh the negatives, as they do with Folau and Pocock for example.

        Although I do see signs that Folau has worked, and is still working to improve his game.

      • December 27th 2017 @ 10:33pm
        John said | December 27th 2017 @ 10:33pm | ! Report

        3 John Eales Medals in 5 years.

        Sounds fairly consistent to me…

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