Folau tipped to make debut at fullback
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has given rugby convert Israel Folau the provisional thumbs up to start against Queensland in Brisbane this weekend but warned the Reds are as dangerous as ever and can not be written off after a loss to the Brumbies.
Cheika said Folau was ''in very big contention'' to run out against the Reds at Suncorp on Saturday for the Waratahs first game of the regular season and dismissed concerns the talented back would be targeted by Queensland's game plan.
''You can't accommodate for what the opposition might do, we've just got to do what we do and that's it,'' Cheika said.
''Every good coach, like Ewen [McKenzie], has plans and Queensland are a very intelligent team so I'm sure they're going to find some way to get after him. But we as a team have to deliver what we want to deliver this season.''
Cheika emphatically disagreed with the view this year's Reds squad were an inferior side based on their first round loss to the ACT in Canberra last weekend.
''I think everyone's far too quick to make assessments on people's season just on one game,'' he said.
''It's the first game of the year and those guys up there have only had a couple of runs, it's so early, it's impossible to tell.
''Teams evolve through the season, I think a few guys were saying that last year about Queensland as well and they came good at the end of the year and won the conference, so I won't be thinking that at all.''
Berrick Barnes remains in serious doubt for the encounter after he sat out most of Monday's training session with a heavily strapped left leg.
Five-eighth Bernard Foley completed the session and looks a chance to reclaim the starting No. 10 jersey but Cheika said he would be assessed on Tuesday morning to see how he pulled up after the run.
Drew Mitchell and Tom Kingston ran on the wings for most of the session, with Folau at fullback and Foley at No. 10.
With Rob Horne still a month away from returning, it appears it will fall to utility Adam Ashley-Cooper and Tom Carter to fill out the centre.
But Cheika was keeping his own counsel, apart from declaring he hoped Peter Betham would be in the mix alongside Lachie Turner for selection on the wing, as well as Cam Crawford as a contender at fullback.
''We're trying to get Peter Betham fit as well, back for this game, and there's also Cam Crawford in the mix for fullback, he's played well and he can play wing too, so it's really difficult,'' he said.
''Obviously as the coach I've got an idea in my head about how it's going to pan out. I want to see guys have a run today and I'll call it [on Tuesday].''
A gamble on starting Folau is likely, particularly in light of Cheika's feelings about X-factor players.
Commenting on Queensland's attack, he singled out as threats five-eighth Quade Cooper, winger Digby Ioane and centre Ben Tapuai.
''When you've got X-factor players in tight games, if they have that one good moment it can make all the difference, so you've always got to be 100 per cent wary of them,'' Cheika said.
Sydney Morning Herald