Folau gets first taste of home atmosphere
Israel Folau's transition to Super Rugby attracts further scrutiny tomorrow night with the former league star and Aussie Rules flop named at fullback for the NSW Waratahs final trial match against the Crusaders.
Folau has impressed in the Waratahs' previous pre-season hit out against the Blues but can expect a serious appraisal of his skill set against an opponent featuring All Blacks maestro Dan Carter.
A former Queensland and Kangaroos rugby league centre, Folau has the added burden of playing in front of his new home crowd for the first time at Allianz Stadium after the Waratahs two other trials were held in Tasmania and Auckland.
The Crusaders are also likely to exploit the inexperience of Carter's uncapped counterpart, 22-year-old playmaker Ben Volavola.
New Waratahs head coach Michael Cheika had no qualms about debuting the former under-20s international.
"You don't get experience if you don't play," said Cheika.
"It's very exciting for Ben to go up against Dan Carter. He is a very natural, instinctive player."Although he's only a few months into the programme as a professional player the way he has responded has been surprisingly good."
Cheika said Volavola's experienced teammates would be responsible for easing his introduction.
The unavailability of Berrick Barnes and Bernard Foley facilitated Volavola's promotion to start outside former Auckland and Blues halfback Grayson Hart.
Wallabies utility back Adam Ashley-Cooper, test wing Lachie Turner are within range to offer support while long-serving midfield back Tom Carter will be a ready source of advice.
"It will be up to the rest of the team to make sure he challenges one of the best players in the world (Carter) and take him on," Cheika said.
The forward battle promises to be a willing affair, particularly in the loose exchanges where Cheika has enlisted an all-Wallaby front row.
Veteran No 8 Wycliff Palu renews his rivalry with Kieran Read while promising Wallabies openside flanker Michael Hooper - an acquisition from the Brumbies - will be supply impact via an enlarged reserves bench.
With Hooper - a genuine rival to premier Wallabies No.7 David Pocock - on the bench, Cheika has opted to blood rookie David Hickey alongside Palu and blindside Dave Dennis.
The Waratahs also field a formidable second row in Sitaleki Timani and Mitchell, the former Queenslander who has returned to Australia following a stint in Japan.
Cheika, in keeping with the nature of a trial match, was not expecting to be totally enamoured with his team on Valentine's Day.
"It's early days," he said.
"We're not going to get carried away. It's more about the team realising that this is the way we play, this is the team we are, and this is how we do it every day."
NSW WARATAHS: Israel Folau, Lachie Turner, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tom Carter, Tom Kingston, Ben Volavola, Grayson Hart, Wycliff Palu, David Hickey, Dave Dennis, Mitchell Chapman, Sitaleki Timani, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Luke Holmes, John Ulugia, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Tilse, Brendan McKibbin, James Hilgendorf, Cam Crawford, Michael Hodge, Drew Mitchell, Michael Hooper, Jed Holloway, Lopeti Timani, Kane Douglas, Greg Peterson.