Israel Folau’s electric return to professional rugby after more than 1000 days was promising but he still has work to do to convince Toutai Kefu he’s worthy of a 2023 World Cup place.
That’s the verdict of Wallabies legend and World Cup winner Tim Horan, a pundit with Stan Sport, which kicked off coverage of the Japanese League One on the weekend.
It was a thrilling start to the season, with Folau front and centre – scoring two tries including the match-winner as Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu’s beat Kobelco Kobe Steelers 24-23.
Folau, whose Wallabies career was terminated in 2019 for homophobic views, showed what Australia has been missing and it started his campaign to win a place for Tonga at the World Cup under recently revised eligibility laws.
Kefu has made it clear he wants Folau to boost his Tonga team in France in 2023, but Horan, a teammate of Kefu’s at the 1999 RWC, believes the controversial player will have to show more than just excellent on-field form to be a sure tjhing.
“He’s always been one of the best athletes that the Wallabies have had and he doesn’t seem to have lost a lot,” Horan told The Roar.
“But the hard thing for him going forward is that while it’s great he’s playing rugby again in Japan, if he’s going to play for Tonga, I think rugby will probably come second for Toutai Kefu, knowing Tonga has a lot of values and standards within his team.
“Performance will be one thing but probably the most important for Toutai, if he’s going to select him going forward, will be does he fit within the values and standards of his team?
“He’s going to have to show it for a year to 18 months.”
Fullback was a problem position for Australia over the past season, due mainly to injuries to Tom Banks and then Reece Hodge.
Israel Folau is back ????
— Stan Sport Rugby (@StanSportRugby) January 10, 2022
I asked Horan if he thought Folau would walk into the No.15 jersey right now, in an alternative universe where he hadn’t burnt every bridge to Rugby Australia.
“You’d have to see a lot more,” Horan replied.
“I’d probably doubt it at the moment. He was certainly was a very good player but we haven’t seen him for a long time, so like one decent game in Japan doesn’t get you a long way yet.”
Horan said the circumstances of Folau’s departure from Australian rugby were “a huge shame”.
“He’s such a talented sportsman, a very talented rugby player and had easily another six or seven years and playing in the gold jersey if he wanted it and could have helped the Wallabies in a a couple of World Cups,” Horan said.
Samu Kerevi and Sean McMahon also showed strong form as the Japanese competition kicked off. The eligibility rules were relaxed for Dave Rennie in 2021 and Horan said a lot of factors would come into play for this year.
“Australia needs it’s players off shore to play well and then work out if you’re going to pick them or not,” said Horan.
“My thought is your first option is to pick Australian based players but if you’re struggling in a position then have the option to pick someone overseas.
“It will depend on COVID, form, all the injuries in Australia, but I think the biggest thing is if fans haven’t seen much of Super Rugby and they turn on the first Test against England they want to see that the best team available for the Wallabies is running out there.
“If that’s Samu Kerevi and Sean McMahon and two or three other players off shore I’ve got no problem with that as long as they’re going to perform.”
Stan Sport will be showing Folau’s second match this weekend with the Shining Arcs vs. Spears game streaming ad-free and live from 1.55pm AEDT. On Sunday Stan is showing Sungoliath vs Verblitz with McMahon, Kerevi and All Blacks’ Damian McKenzie in action for the hosts.
Darren Coleman’s Three Phase Plan to get Tahs back on top
New NSW Waratahs coach Darren Coleman has shared the secrets to a three phase plan that he
believes will have the Tahs going from a winless season in 2021 to top eight in 2022, and mixing it with the best in 2023.
In a recent conversation with Duncan Chubb on the Wandering Bear podcast, Coleman explained that while
he’s realistic about the 2022 season, he believes he’s got the right set up, players and plans to achieve some ambitious goals in time.
“I’m not an idiot – we’re not going from dead last to first,” Coleman said of the season ahead.
Coleman returns to the Tahs having worked there in the early days of Super Rugby, fresh from a stint in the United States and explains his approach to preparing the team to be confident, resilient and accountable.
He said the starting point was rebuilding the squad’s confidence after a dire 2021 campaign.
“The messaging we used was positive,” said Coleman of his initial approach.
“We rarely pulled them up for any errors. We did some team-building exercises and some morale stuff that made them feel good about themselves.”
Coleman described phase two as “Tah Tough” which aimed to help develop great resilience within the squad with a focus on physical and mental toughness.
To help develop resilience, Coleman immersed the players in nature with the culmination of the phase being a team camp in Kangaroo Valley. He wanted the players to have no creature comforts but instead really test themselves.
Using exercises such as night hikes and canoe paddling on hot days he challenged the players. He wanted them to decide “when things get really tough, what type of a team mate are you going to be?”
With the squad’s Wallabies players returning this month, Coleman said this next phase would be about accountability and the tone will shift. “I’ll be cracking the whip,” he said, explaining he wants the players to acknowledge and embrace the concept that if they want to get in and stay in the team, then they have to perform well.
Coleman added that he has a “supportive club board” who understand the multi-year timeframes necessary to get the Tahs back towards the top of Super Rugby, and was clear on his desire for success.
“I take losing pretty bad and I’ve already got my eye on the top eight in 2022,” he said.
White calls for rule change
Former South Africa head coach Jake White says it’s time for the Springboks to block overseas-based players from representing the country.
With eligibility a controversial talking point in Australia and New Zealand, White suggests the world champions need to do more to protect the game in South Africa.
The Boks have seen a high proportion of their stars leave the country over recent years due to the financial muscle of the teams in England, France and Japan.
White, who is director of rugby at the Bulls, told SA Rugby Magazine: “Now is a good time, before the next contracting cycle, for SA Rugby to draw a line on picking players who are contracted to overseas clubs.
“South Africa are world champions and SA Rugby did something that has worked because, in 2018 when Rassie Erasmus was appointed, the current cycle of Springbok players were all overseas. But we can’t allow that with the next cycle of players.”
He added “South African franchises have basically become academies for overseas clubs,” with teams in Europe and Japan deriving most benefit from the country’s youth development program.
“We mustn’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” said White. “We’ve got such incredible schoolboy structures in South Africa and our saving grace is that we produce world-class players because we’ve got big schools like Grey Bloem where we’ve got 1,500 boys, and Paarl Gim coached by a former Springbok in Pieter Rossouw.”
Sonny Springbok shock
Sonny Bill Williams has revealed his sons have told him they’d rather play for the Springboks than the All Blacks.
The former New Zealand superstar is married to a South African, Alana Raffie, and they have four children, daughters Iman and Aisha, and sons Zaid and Essa.
“Cape Town is my second home,” Williams told ruck.co.uk. “Maybe one day my two boys might be playing in Green and Gold.
“They’ve told me that’s what they’d like. They love the Springboks.”
(With Olly Matthews)