Wallabies defensive coach Nathan Grey has backed superstar fullback Israel Folau to make a successful transition to the centres in 2016 – if that’s where he’s required to play.
With Adam Ashley-Cooper joining Bordeaux, there’s an opening at outside centre at the NSW Waratahs, where Wallabies coach Michael Cheika first floated the notion of Folau finding a permanent home at No.13 this year.
Cheika, of course, has left the Waratahs to take up his Wallabies post fulltime but you can bet the influential Test coach will be working behind the scenes to have his stars playing in the positions he prefers them appearing at international level.
Grey, who will continue working with both NSW and Australia next year, believes Folau will rebound from his quiet World Cup campaign when he returns for the Waratahs following off-season ankle surgery.
Where the code-hopper lines up in Super Rugby will ultimately come down to Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson, but Grey is convinced Folau will be a hit if he shifts to outside centre, defensively the most challenging position in the backline.
“Where he plays will be dependent on where everyone as a coaching panel – and Daryl’s the head coach – feels that he’s going to add the most impetus to the side,” he said on Wednesday.
“If that’s at 15 or that’s at 13, then I’m sure he’ll be looking to apply his skill set to the way we want to play and aid our chances of performing really well.
“Without a doubt, he’s comfortable in that front line. There’s some nuances you’ve definitely got to pick up and he’s been working with Adam and with other excellent defenders for a number of years.
“So it’s just a matter of making that decision and upskilling from there.”
Grey nominated former All Blacks winger Zac Guildford and Waratahs stalwart Matt Carraro as other potential outside centre options, but acknowledged whoever succeeded Ashley-Cooper had huge boots to fill.
“Look, you can’t replace an Adam Ashley-Cooper,” he said.
“It’s a matter of someone else coming into that position and trying to take it to his level.
“He’s a world-class centre from a defensive perspective and he’s someone who’s already assisted a number of players in the squad in showing how that job was done during his time here.
“So a lot of it’s guys having that understanding of what it takes at that level and it’s up to us to upskill ourselves to be ready.”