Israel Folau has Crusaders' full attention

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 14/02/2013
Israel Folau
Photosport
IN THE THICK OF IT: Israel Folau has impressed in the pre-season but it may still take some time for him to reach his peak says teammate Lachie Turner.

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The Crusaders will score an early hit if they can fill multiple code-hopper Israel Folau's head with self-doubt tonight.

Although Crusaders attack coach Aaron Mauger hasn't seen any of Folau's pre-season performances for the Waratahs, the former All Blacks midfielder will be acutely aware that history is dotted with players who struggled to switch codes.

Folau's assignment is particularly difficult.

He is playing his third sport in four years after stints in the AFL and NRL for Greater Western Sydney, the Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm, and has been named to start at fullback against the Crusaders at the Sydney Football Stadium.

"I suppose the biggest adjustment for him, especially out in the wider channels, is just picking up his lines, understanding the contact and the breakdowns will be a little bit different," Mauger said.

"His introduction to that will have been pretty interesting I suppose. Just looking after the ball in the tackle, trying to recycle it. But if you look at the guy he is a good athlete and is going to win a lot of his collisions with his ability to beat a man and carry strongly."

After spending a season learning to adjust to Aussie Rules in the North East AFL in 2011, Folau was promoted to the top AFL competition last year.

He made 13 appearances for the Giants that were generally regarded as mediocre at best.

Following negotiations with NRL club the Parramatta Eels, he signed a one-year contract with the Waratahs.

There are no shortage of examples of former rugby league players who struggled to adjust to the 15-man code and Folau's task, after two years trying to learn the finer details of Aussie Rules, is likely to be even more complicated.

The Crusaders backs should be intent on finding ways to exploit the newcomer, while also seeking improvements in their own defence following last weekend's 38-21 defeat to the Highlanders in Oamaru.

Rushing up with a disciplined defensive line and plenty of chasers following kicks downfield will be urged in a bid to limit Folau's time and opportunities.

Complicating Folau's task is he cannot afford to be sucked into tracking the wrong players in defence and the Crusaders may execute some ploys that could again be used when they meet the Waratahs in their competition game in Christchurch on May 31.

"We will also have a good look to see where he is strong, obviously he is a great ball carrier and a good athlete so we will be mindful of that," Mauger said.

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"We don't want to give him too much space and will try and shut him down."

Meanwhile,returning All Black, Dan Carter, is unlikely to play the full match.

Carter, who will be wary of aggravating the Achilles tendon injury that plagued him on the All Blacks' northern tour, will possibly be replaced by Tom Taylor at halftime.

"He has just started running freely for the last couple of weeks and we won't be wanting to overload him too early," Mauger said. "We will just see how he gets through that first 40 minutes."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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