So, what to do with Israel Folau?
August 19, 2013
Israel Folau touched the ball only rarely against New Zealand (Editor's Note: hence this photo has a rarity value) © Getty Images
There's actually something more exasperating than the endless Izzy or Isn't He Folau saga over whether he is going to stay in rugby next year. And that's watching him imitate a cardboard cut-out during a Test match. Considering the endless hullabaloo over how Folau is supposedly the man to revitalise Australian rugby you would like to see him given the chance to prove it; instead, against New Zealand, nothing.
Israel Folau's vast talents were wasted on Saturday. One pass went his way in the first half. A wayward cross-field kick in the second half finished in the general vicinity of him. And that was about it. He might as well have hopped the fence and saved himself from a late winter chill by getting under the travel blanket with a few fans and waiting for full-time because his Wallabies team-mates clearly forgot he was on the field.
It was not entirely Australia's fault Folau resembled a scarecrow. The All Blacks were effective in short circuiting the Wallabies by swooping on every minimal chance offered by the frazzled Australians. They were also smart in directing the play away from Folau's wing, clearly realising they could take advantage of James O'Connor's often-dubious defence on the other side of the field.
The Wallabies did have opportunities to change the nature of this Test, but flawed attacking and defensive strategies saw them for the umpteenth time hand the game to the All Blacks. There was a lack of sharp passes; just dreary shuffle ball, not entirely surprising when Wallabies No.10 Matt Toomua - one of numerous young Brumbies to discover the gargantuan gap existent between provincial football and trans-Tasman Tests - began to drift across field. And the few occasions the ball loomed near the man described as Australia's most effective attacking source, some dopey Wallabies forward would get in the way and try to take it up. Opportunity lost.
As for defence, whoever is in charge of that area in the new-look Wallabies coaching staff - Nick Scrivener - will have to lock himself away avoiding all contact with civilisation because it was D for Diabolical, with numerous players repeatedly caught out of position; O'Connor was one notable culprit.
So, what to do with Folau?
Ewen McKenzie lamented the Wallabies' inability to retain possession
If the Wallabies are to persist with their mundane shovelling tactics, and choosing not to start Quade Cooper, who at least knows how to throw long, accurate cut-out passes to bring wingers into play, then the only option is to move Folau closer to the action or into a position where he can actually contribute. Maybe it's time to consider playing Folau in the centres, and moving Adam Ashley-Cooper, easily the Wallabies' most competent back on Saturday night, to No.15. Otherwise why not play Folau at fullback, after the All Blacks exposed Jesse Mogg?
Either at outside centre and fullback, Folau has the chance to inject more of himself into the game. Another option is to move O'Connor to fullback and bring back Joe Tomane, even if the Brumbies winger struggled during the final British & Irish Lions Test.
The back three is not the only area where Ewen McKenzie has to consider some tinkering to avoid a similar drubbing in Wellington. Michael Hooper was clearly Australia's best player on the pitch at ANZ Stadium, taking it to Richie McCaw, but several of his fellow forwards went missing; Hugh McMeniman was way off his normal game, and probably victim of having not played for so long, while Ben Mowen failed to match Kieran Read in the No.8 tussle. The All Blacks' domination of the tackle area reminded us how much of a loss Scott Higginbotham has been this season.
James Horwill did not have the heroic captain's game, but at least his locking partner, Rob Simmons, redeemed himself with one of his better Test performances. In the front-row, the Wallabies were okay but there were clearly problems when their hooker, Stephen Moore, was unable to rake in two scrums.
McKenzie will be reluctant to make too many changes, but he should bring Scott Fardy into the starting pack - most probably the back-row.
McKenzie is right in saying now is not the time for panic. But he should still feel concerned because the Wallabies' best chance of winning a Test against the All Blacks this year was in Sydney due to the surprise factor, and they blew it through poor tactics.
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