Israel Folau v Ben Smith
July 2, 2014
Ben Smith and israel Folau go head to head in Sydney on Sunday © Getty Images
Israel Folau and Ben Smith, the two best fullbacks in the world, go up against each other as New South Wales Waratahs host the Highlanders in a Super Rugby fixture at Allianz Stadium on Sunday that will prove key to the their respective finals hopes.
There is the critic's old adage of "lies, damned lies and statistics", but the numbers in this case (and most others!) certainly back the theory that Smith and Folau are the top 15s in the world at present.
Folau has been a revelation for the Waratahs in 2014, and at times he was unplayable for the Wallabies in their three-Test series against France. Smith may not have written quite as many Super Rugby headlines this year, but was perhaps even more sensational as the All Blacks put England to the sword in another series seep.
We take a look at the pair's form in the Super Rugby and Test arena, as well as ranking them in relation to other Super Rugby fullbacks.
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Smith is one of only two players to gain more than 1000 metres this season, but Folau tops proceedings when it comes to match-by-match averages. The sheer volume of Folau's tries and breaks dwarfs Smith's very respectable return of five tries and 12 breaks, but elsewhere they are well-matched. The New Zealander is perhaps the more mature player of the two, and he is proving to be a better creator than the former rugby league winger. Smith's movement around the park gets him involved more often than any other fullback, but his tackling success rate is also strong. The other advantage Smith holds over Folau is in the kicking department. Folau will probably never be a natural kicker of the ball and, while this is yet to prove problematic, Smith's strength in this aspect could point to the argument that he is a more rounded player.
ESPNscrum's Tom Hamilton named Ben Smith Man of the Series for the All Blacks against England in New Zealand, and his form, really, was perhaps better than that of Folau, who was sublime against France in Australia. Folau had the slight edge in terms of individual totals, but Smith played his part in three internationals of a more competitive nature. Smith was unusually shaky in defence - even if his memorable tackle against Manu Tuilagi shortly before half-time of the second Test was key in turning that match - but this was perhaps testament to England's attacking intent, which surprised many. Folau, somewhat targeted by France to return the ball from deep, passed that test with flying colours, and he certainly transferred his Super Rugby form to the Test arena. His average gain was extremely strong - perhaps thanks to his ability to break the line, which has been such a potent skill for the Waratahs this season.
Regardless of which player or team you support, we are guaranteed world-class talent on display in Sydney this weekend. Simply sit back and enjoy.
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