Lutton: Despite loss, Folau silences doubters
Before Saturday night's Test against the British and Irish Lions, the question had been asked over and over again: Is Israel Folau, a rookie code convert, really ready for international rugby?
After that performance, the more sensible query seems to be is whether international rugby ready for Israel Folau?
Folau was a game-changer for the Wallabies in their heartbreaking 23-21 loss at Suncorp Stadium. He could equally be a game-changer for the code in this country, providing Bill Pulver can convince him to hang around.
It's time to look for loose change down the back of the ARU couches. The early signs suggest the sky is the limit.
He dined out in his Test debut like he was mucking around in the back yard, scoring twice in the first half to send the Wallabies on their way before their backline literally fell apart around him.
That he saw precious little ball in the second half, when the Wallabies should have been passing or kicking it in his direction at every opportunity, should go down as a cross in the book of James O'Connor, who struggled to take charge at 10 when the game needed firm and confident direction.
Only Folau's rival winger, the Welsh colossus George North, looked Folau's athletic equal on the field. North scored a majestic try of his own and their tussle over coming Tests will be worth the inflated ticket prices.
The Lions, as well as portions of the touring press, certainly have newfound respect for Folau. His first try, off a Genia kick, showed his raw pace once he gets into open country. His second, where he casually brushed off three defenders to score when nothing was on, had everyone convinced.
The Folau argument has ended. Robbie Deans hasn't always been on the money but he got this one right.
"It was great to get over the line and score a couple of tries. I'm just disappointed with the result," Folau said.
"I couldn't have asked for a better debut. The Lions fans were very passionate and made a lot of noise throughout the game."
There could be more touches on offer Folau next week if Berrick Barnes is ruled out.
Deans may be tempted to shift his superstar winger back in the hope he becomes a superstar fullback. It's a risk but the reward of Folau marauding through the backline with more regularity could mean the difference between keeping the series alive or watching it slip away in Melbourne.
"If the opportunity comes up and Robbie wants me to play there, obviously I'll put my hand up. We've still got Kurtley (Beale) who can play there as well. I'll what Robbie has to say during the week," Folau said.
One man who wasn't surprised by the way Folau thrived on debut was Lions coach Warren Gatland.
Folau's outstanding rugby league career aside, the New Zealander had already been given an inside line on the threat he posed.
"A guy that does a bit of speed work with us, a guy called Frans Bosch, said to me a couple of years ago 'I've worked with two people that I think are incredibly special athletes, probably the two most special athletes I've worked with," Gatland said.
"A guy from the Melbourne Storm called Israel Folau and the other guy is George North".
"It's interesting that they both played against each other today, exceptional talents both of them and I think both players would have learned a lot."
Deans said Folau never once doubted his ability but conceded his side needed to be more willing to harness his talents.
"He has a lot of confidence in his ability to do the things that his does. He's not intimidated," Deans said. "He's a talent. We need to bring him into the game."