The biggest test to date of Israel Folau's rugby experiment is two days away.
Despite impressive trial match performances and early comparisons with fellow code-switcher Sonny Bill Williams, the Waratahs know a more accurate yardstick for their star recruit's progress is the Crusaders' play-making dream team of Dan Carter and Israel Dagg.
And with both Carter and Dagg set to be confirmed in the Crusaders' side to play the Waratahs at Allianz Stadium on Thursday night, NSW are bracing for an attack.
''There's no doubt they'll put a lot of high ball up to [Folau] early,'' Waratahs assistant coach Alan Gaffney said.
''Carter's very adept at that and so are a number of their players. They'll test Izzy out. But he's proven very, very well that he's excellent under a high ball in rugby league and they do get put under pressure there, so I think he'll handle that.''
An added threat, according to Gaffney, is Carter's prowess at targeting fullbacks.
''It'll be a situation of trying to work him around the pitch. Carter's a master at working No 15s and taking advantage of a positional play, but I think Izzy has a great sniff of the game.
''He really understands footy and has a good sense of what's happening.''
The Waratahs' narrow loss to the Blues was a good stepping stone. Blues coach John Kirwan was another who drew the comparison between Folau and Sydney Roosters signing Williams.
''You can't give him any space and you've got to tackle him pretty hard,'' Kirwan said.
''He is like Sonny Bill Williams. He will need time to adjust to some of the finer points, but if they get the ball into his hands, he's hard to stop.''
But the Waratahs have more pressing problems than protecting Folau. Doubts over the fitness of the side's first- and second-choice five-eighths, Berrick Barnes and Bernard Foley, mean coach Michael Cheika may be forced to rely earlier than expected on Ben Volavola.
Barnes is out with a knee strain and while it is likely Foley will be cleared to play on Thursday, it is a watching brief at this stage.
That could leave Volavola, 22, in the hot seat. He has been with the club since October after impressing for Southern Districts in the Shute Shield competition.
Halfback Brendan McKibbin would assume the kicking duties with former sevens player Matt Lucas in reserve.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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