Folau faces baptism of fire against Lions

JIM MORTON
Last updated 08:53 20/06/2013
Israel Folau
Getty Images
ON THE FENCE: Israel Folau is yet to decide where his future lies beyond this year.

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Code-hopper Israel Folau will be thrown into the toughest international rugby baptism imaginable when he marks giant winger George North in Saturday night's first Test against the British and Irish Lions.

After a short apprenticeship of just 13 Super Rugby games at fullback for NSW, Folau's Test debut was confirmed on Thursday morning when named to start on the Wallabies' right wing against the Lions.

Coach Robbie Deans also handed Brumbies pair Ben Mowen and Christian Lealiifano their first Test caps.

Lying in wait at Suncorp Stadium - where Folau starred as a league three-quarter for Australia, Queensland and the Brisbane Broncos - will be the benchmark winger in his new code.

The 192cm, 110kg North has delivered a massive boost to the tourists by convincingly passing a fitness test on his suspect hamstring to be cleared for selection on the left wing.

It looms as a colossal positional battle between two of the most exciting players in world rugby.

While the Waratahs game-breaker stands one centimetre taller and gives away seven kilos in weight to the 31-Test Welsh flyer, it's Folau's inexperience in the Test arena which gives rise to one of the biggest question marks over the Australian line-up.

But coach Deans is more than happy to gamble on his talent, adaptability and big-match temperament to meet the high intensity and pressure of an encounter that Will Genia expects will be as tough, or tougher, than meeting the All Blacks.

Lions assistant coach Rob Howley on Wednesday night painted a graphic picture of what awaits the former Bronco, Melbourne Storm star and GWS Giant in the series-opener.

Howley rated North, 21, among the top few players he'd been associated with in 10 years of coaching, lauding his "physicality, power, speed" and marvelling his game was only getting better.

"When you're able to bring in him in the 10 channel or out in the 13 channel or staying wide through a passing game he's been pretty instrumental," the Lions backs mentor said.

"His work-rate off the wing is phenomenal. It's something we want our wingers to do ... to have involvements because you want your best players on the ball as often as possible."

Deans will want the same from Folau, as he must immediately stand up and thrive in the Test arena against his world-class rival.

While one Welsh giant has been cleared, the Lions must overcome the loss of another with centre Jamie Roberts struggling with his own hamstring injury.

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Wallabies: Berrick Barnes, Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Lealiifano, Digby Ioane, James O'Connor, Will Genia; Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen, James Horwill (capt), Kane Douglas, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson. Replacements: Saia Faingaa, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Liam Gill, Nick Phipps, Pat McCabe, Kurtley Beale.

- AAP

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