Deans backs decision to play Folau at fullback
The decision by the NSW Waratahs to start Israel Folau at fullback against the Queensland Reds last Saturday was "absolutely" the right one, according to Wallabies coach Robbie Deans.
While Folau's debut in Super Rugby exposed deficiencies in his game, Deans believes that given time on the paddock he will make a full conversion to rugby union.
That time will be to Deans's benefit. He would only select Folau for the Wallabies if he believes the former NRL and AFL player has developed his game to a sufficient standard.
Until then, the risk factor with the more game time Folau is given is the Waratahs to handle.
But Deans supported NSW coach Michael Cheika when asked if he had made the right call by starting Folau in last Saturday's loss to the Reds at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
"Absolutely. You consider everything as a coach. And it's easy to sit from a distance. It's easy from the grandstand," the Wallabies coach said on Monday at the Australian Rugby Union's launch of the 100 Day Countdown to the British and Irish Lions tour.
"He would have based his decision on a lot of background - of what he had witnessed on the training field, what he had seen on pre-season fixture."
After the publicity of his switch from NRL to AFL and union, Folau's Super debut was destined to be scrutinised - and it finished with criticism, in particular of his defence and ball handling.
"It was a baptism of fire. It was always going to be. But he is a class footballer," Deans said.
"He will be back, don't worry about that. We anticipated he would come under a fair amount of scrutiny and [the Reds] would want to put him under as much pressure as possible. Clearly, he is a bloke who can make things happen.
The Reds didn't want to be on the wrong end of that."
Where Folau plays in the Waratahs' first home game against the Melbourne Rebels at Allianz Stadium on Friday night remains to be seen, but Cheika has pledged to "invest" in him.
"He is a huge talent. He can play fullback. He can play wing. He can play 13," Deans said.
"[Where he plays] . . . those are decisions that Michael will make. And the good thing is that he will be getting experience in game week to week in a cauldron that is clearly getting tougher."
It will also be interesting to see how Cheika decides his front row for Friday's game, with former Waratahs captain and dropped Wallabies loose-head prop Benn Robinson having impressed in his time off the bench after half-time. As soon as he came on, the Waratahs' set piece improved.
Robinson, one of many Wallabies with an eye on the Lions tour, feels he made best of the time he had on field after being overlooked in favour of Jeremy Tilse.
"I think so. I was pretty happy with my performance on the weekend," Robinson said Monday. "For any player coming off six or seven weeks of a break and having a shortish style pre-season . . . there are always areas to work on. As a player, I always want to be growing all the time.
Robinson conceded that him forcing a scrum collapse early in his time reflected his intent.
"For me it was going on there and doing what I do best," he said. "I knew the set piece was an area I had to be fairly dominant in. It's good for the team that we got a turn over."
Cheika said he was pleased with how Robinson played. "He had a lot of good involvements. He worked well in the scrum as well. He has put himself right in the frame for selection this week. I thought he had a good impact on the game when he came on."
Rob Horne (hamstring) will still not be available for Friday's game even though Cheika said he was "improving well".
Sydney Morning Herald