NSW are confident there’s no stopping Israel Folau in his current form, even though Queensland hope to kick the ball away from him on Saturday.
NSW Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has warned the Queensland Reds there’ll be no hiding from try-scoring wizard Israel Folau in Saturday night’s Super Rugby blockbuster at ANZ Stadium.
The Reds know they can’t eliminate the ever-present Folau from the match entirely, but are planning to limit the Wallabies superstar’s impact on the game better than the Western Force did, by either kicking to open space or not at all.
Cheika said he’d be surprised if Queensland followed through with that tactic, and even if they do, he’s confident Folau’s brilliant kick-returning ability can’t be curbed.
With both teams clambering for a psychological foothold ahead of a match which could have a major bearing on the Australian Conference, Cheika was quick to claim underdog status.
Queensland have won their past five matches against NSW spanning back to early 2011, and have only lost once in their three visits to Homebush.
Cheika attempted to call Reds coach Richard Graham’s bluff on talk of defusing Folau.
“If we were going to kick, it would be pretty hard not to kick to the fullback. He’s going to be back there somewhere,” said Cheika.
“And even if they do kick to the other bloke, he can pass to the fullback.
“I think they’ll kick like they normally do.
“It’s not that easy to say, ‘we’re not going to kick this week’. You train all the time and have habits. Richard Graham’s a smart guy.
“He’s not going to set up a whole way of playing this week because ‘we’re worried about the Waratahs.’
“They’ve got the wood on us.”
NSW are preparing for a titanic forward battle against the Reds, and Cheika has called South African hardman Jacques Potgieter into his starting side at lock in place of 21-year-old Will Skelton.
Captain Dave Dennis missed training on Tuesday with a knee injury and a final decision will be made on the make-up of the side on Thursday.
Cheika denied NSW can benefit from a size advantage against Queensland, but said he had a “gut feel” that Potgieter’s experience could be crucial against the skilled 2011 Super Rugby champions.
Prop Paddy Ryan, retained over Sekope Kepu, said it didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what former Springbok Potgieter brings to the mix in the back row.
“He’s a big unit. He’s got shoulders the size of a bloody door and he whacks blokes with them,” Ryan said.
“He’s brought physicality and he enjoys the combative style of rugby.”
Last year, NSW went down 14-12 to Queensland at ANZ despite dominating the forward battle.
Five-eighth Bernard Foley believes the Waratahs’ star-studded backline are better placed to capitalise on a solid platform from the forwards than they were in the corresponding fixture last year.
“There’s a lot of strike weapons in the backline,” he said.
Waratahs: Israel Folau, Alofa Alofa, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Peter Betham, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Jacques Potgieter, Paddy Ryan, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves (to be finalised): Tola Latu, Jeremy Tilse, Sekope Kepu, Will Skelton, Stephen Hoiles, Brendan McKibbin, Rob Horne, Matt Carraro, Pat McCutcheon, Jonno Lance.