Israel Folau has 'plenty' improvement to come
January 17, 2014
Israel Folau enjoyed a spectacular debut season © Getty Images
Israel Folau faces a big challenge in 2014 but he has "plenty" of scope for further improvement, Michael Cheika says.
The former Kangaroos rugby league international enjoyed a spectacular first 12 months in rugby union after moving from Australian Football League side Greater Western Sydney Giants, playing in all 15 Wallabies internationals in 2013 and equalling fellow dual international Lote Tuqiri's record of 10 Test tries in a calendar year. His form was such that he was named Super Rugby Rookie of the Year, Australian Rugby Union Players' Association and International Rugby Players Association Newcomer of the Year, and the People's Choice player of the year awards.
Folau played primarily as a fullback after starting his first five games on the wing, establishing a reputation for being a game breaker through his elusive running and penchant for scoring tries.
"I think there will be a big challenge for him this year, just adjusting from having such a massive season, a small break, backing up again," Waratahs coach Cheika said of Folau. "That's a first for him, so we're mindful in the way that we are preparing him this season, both for mental freshness and also physical.
"But his enthusiasm is ridiculous. He wanted to come back early and start training, and I had to tell him not to come. "I think just based on that alone, and his quality, the formula is looking good going forward."
Cheika hasn't ruled out playing Folau at outside centre in the Super Rugby trials, but "he's travelling so well at 15 we're not going to play around too much".
Folau will however face competition for the fullback spot from fellow Wallabies player Kurtley Beale, who has returned to the Waratahs from Melbourne Rebels.
"I'll just see how it pans out," Cheika said when asked whom he favoured as custodian, joking that "seven-and-a-half each … will make 15. I don't have to worry about selecting the first competition game team until late in February."
Cheika has no injury concerns as his Wallabies have all returned in good shape after their break, and he is not concerned that Jacques Potgieter hasn't yet joined the squad due to playing commitments in Japan.
"He keeps texting me every week, he wants to know how it's going," Cheika said of the Springboks forward. "He's very eager to get here. I think he's only got one match left in Japan and then he'll be here, so I'm not worried about that."