When can someone’s worth jump sharply by doing next to nothing? When does someone’s value climb when they’re not even at work but at home on sick leave?
Israel Folau will likely be sat on his couch with his injured ankle raised when the Wallabies aim to do the nigh-on-impossible and beat the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday night.
Folau is yet to re-sign with Rugby Australia beyond this season, which should be getting Wallabies fans a bit nervous as we edge towards September and with the World Cup just over a year away.
He may have lost a few fans earlier this year over his ‘Gays to Hell’ tweet, but it would be disingenuous even for Folau’s biggest critics to deny that he’s in Australia’s top-three most-valuable rugby assets – along with David Pocock and Kurtley Beale.
The Wallabies have been severely underwhelming since making the final of the last World Cup in 2015, with a rare win over the Kiwis interspersed with deflating home losses to Scotland, England and Ireland, and less-than-convincing victories over Italy and Fiji.
For the Wallabies to be given any chance of making the World Cup semi-finals in Japan next year, or of even knocking over South Africa and Argentina over the next few years, then Folau needs to be there.
Folau and Beale are the two Wallabies in the backline that consistently threaten opposition defences – either they’re the ones making the linebreaks or they create space for teammates around them.
If the Wallabies were limp in attack in Sydney last Saturday in a 38-13 Bledisloe Cup thrashing, the loss of Folau to injury means they’ll be just about impotent in Auckland.
Surely Australia’s set-piece can’t be as woeful as it was in Sydney, where they lost seven lineout throws and were demolished in the scrum by the All Blacks front-row of Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks, giving away five penalties.
But even if they get their hands on more of the pill, the Wallabies – minus Folau at fullback – don’t have the arsenal to put points on the board.
Some hold the view the Wallabies need to score at least 30 points to have a hope of victory at Eden Park, and that ain’t gonna happen without Folau in the side.
During the week, Wales Online published a list of the top earners in international rugby, and Folau led the way with reported earnings of $2 million per season.
Reckon he’s worth it?
It’s outrageous money, but his absence this weekend will probably play a big part in answering that.
His value to the Wallabies might be more stark if he’s still sidelined for the following Rugby Championship matches against the Springboks and Argentina.
Unlike the All Blacks, they’re two sides that a misfiring Australia can legitimately feel they can topple with enough possession to work with.
Folau hasn’t missed many Tests since his 2013 debut. He missed the northern hemisphere tour at the end of last season. Aside from the belting of Japan, the Wallabies scraped home over Wales 29-21 and were hammered 30-6 by England and embarrassed 53-24 by Scotland.
The Wallabies can’t beat the top nations without Folau.
If Folau’s manager was cocky enough, he could increase Folau’s asking price to re-sign following the Eden Park clash – that’s how ineffective Australia’s attack is shaping to be sans Izzy.
Dane Haylett-Petty steps in at No.15 and doesn’t look like he’s confident at full speed following a knee injury.
Jack Maddocks fills Haylett-Petty’s spot on the wing. The Melbourne Rebels utility scored Australia’s only try on his Test debut when he got on for the final 25 minutes last Saturday night.
The worry with Maddocks is that because he’s lightweight, he often gets held up in the tackle that leads to turning over possession. It happened quite a bit in Super Rugby when Maddocks got caught in traffic.
Marika Koroibete didn’t make much of an impact last weekend and Reece Hodge is tentative in attack as he’s more concerned about being tidy in defence in his new position at outside centre.
Will Genia and Bernard Foley are doing it tough behind an outclassed forward pack, although Foley’s running game has been below-par for a while.
Michael Cheika’s biggest issue is getting the Wallabies forwards to get anything close to parity in the set piece, but even if they do, it’s difficult to feel optimistic that a Folau-less backline can poke their noses through the All Blacks defence, let alone generate the four tries needed to have a hope of ending their 32-year Eden Park drought.