Israel Folau's Wallaby stocks on the rise

PAUL CULLY
Last updated 11:57 13/05/2013
Israel Folau
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MATCH-WINNER: Israel Folau's try three minutes from fulltime lifted the NSW Waratahs to a 21-15 victory over the Stormers in Sydney.

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OPINION: Israel Folau has one arm in a Wallabies jersey. Signs of respect from opposition don't come much higher than Bryan Habana's attempt to take an intercept with five minutes left rather than risk Folau getting the ball close to the line. 

The great Springbok winger was hell-bent on preventing Folau from taking possession as soon as the Waratahs swung the ball right, rushing up hard and effectively making up Berrick Barnes' mind to delay that final pass. Warren Gatland will be testing the vertical leaps of his fullback/wing options, because Folau is going to be part of this Lions series.

Quade Cooper is more than the last man standing. Doors might be opening due to the injury and disciplinary travails of James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale, but the Reds No.10 was already knocking on them. There are fewer mistakes and greater variety in his play than earlier in the season.

Defensively, there will always be issues, but with Christian Lealiifano and Matt Toomua trampled by Robbie Fruean last week and O'Connor swatted aside by Charles Piutau on Saturday, there are precious few copybooks that are blot-free against powerful ball-runners. But has he done enough to convince Robbie Deans?

Scott Higginbotham is thriving in adversity. If watching a good player in a losing team is a rich source of intelligence, the Wallabies coaches are learning a lot of nice things about the Rebels captain. When the Rebels tightened things up against the Blues in the second half, it was the big No.8 who was at the heart of the tough stuff, picking up from the base of rucks and driving into heavy traffic. It showed a gritty side to his game to complement his running in wider channels. It probably doesn't feel like it, but this losing stretch for the Rebels might be the making of him. On the other side, Frank Halai's work under the high ball, never mind the the three tries, had All Black written all over it.

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- Sydney Morning Herald

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