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Greg Growden
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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
Super Rugby comment
Folau flop heralds shaky start for Waratahs
Greg Growden
February 24, 2013
Highlights from Queensland Reds v New South Wales Waratahs in Brisbane
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Israel Folau's first Super Rugby appearance for the Waratahs was the biggest flop since Dick Fosbury.

So much for all the hysteria, the anticipation, the belief that Folau's entry via rugby league and AFL would transform the rugby code. In the end, we discovered he was hardly the messiah, but as was indicated during his troubled time when dabbling with Australian Rules football that he was just like all of us - flawed and prone to making mistakes.

For weeks on end, the Sydney media have bombarded us with frothy Folau stories, and how this footballing phenomena could be the answer to the Waratahs woes. The pressure had become so great that even the 'Nervous Nellie' gatekeepers at NSW in recent days tried to keep the media well away from the chosen one in the lead up to the Reds match for fear he would spill all the secrets to the 'meaning of life'.

In the end, it all had to be determined by what he did on the football field. And we discovered during his bumbling performance at Suncorp Stadium that there weren't too many secrets.

Yes, you could see he had footballing talent, athleticism, a high level of fitness and some sort of understanding of what is required. But at the moment he is way off the mark, and the Waratahs coaching staff will have to ask themselves whether they blundered in introducing him to the big time too soon.

He was bumped off in tackles, providing a helping hand in the first try scored by the Reds, when their Test winger Dom Shipperley took full advantage of Folau's indecision. Rather than chopping Shipperley down well before the try line, Folau back-pedaled, allowing his opponent to run over the top of him.

His handling was as lacklustre, fumbling the ball in contact on two occasions, while his supposed fine kicking skills were never put to the test. As to whether he will be the king of the high ball, both in attack and defence, we still have no clue. The Waratahs also appeared to have no clue in how to use him.

The only glowing moment was when he scored the Waratahs first try. But that was a case of being in the right spot at the right time.

In the News Limited newspapers this morning, their knowledgeable rugby scribe Jamie Pandaram provided an extensive report card on Folau's effort. Dr J gave Folau a four out of ten marking.

Harsh? No. A Folau failure rating is spot on.

Folau was not alone. Countless other Waratahs were guilty of dunderhead efforts. The appointment of Michael Cheika as the new Waratahs coach promised so much - and it was revitalising to see them play with width. But as usual the skill levels of numerous so called senior and experienced NSW players left a lot to be desired.

You can be adventurous as much as you like, but it means nothing if you struggle to either properly pass or hold onto the football. Cheika knows that.

The only real highlight of the Waratahs night came at half-time when the television cameras took us into their dressing rooms and showed Cheika telling the players what he thought of them. The nice way to explain it is to say there was a lot of finger pointing.

Cheika is an emotional figure, who does not suffer fools. So Waratahs training sessions this week will be a barrel full of laughs. There will be casualties.

After walking away from that match in near disbelief, onto the Six Nations - and one match-(Italy-Wales) which went nowhere due to the atrocious conditions in Rome, and another (England-France) where the teams went at each other like rabid dogs. And with it came several more mighty performances from British and Irish Lions tour contenders.

I know it is early. But already you have a sneaking suspicion that if everyone is fit, the Lions will in a few months field a quality XV that could comprehensively sweep away the Wallabies - who are shackled by a flaky scrum and lack of consistency out wide. Currently you're looking at a 2-1 or 3-0 Lions series triumph. And maybe not even that supposed big Australian rugby hope - Israel Folau - will be able to do anything about it.

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