Israel Folau has been handed a roving commission to bob up wherever he pleases as the NSW Waratahs bank on the code-hopping superstar to reignite their Super Rugby season.
While Folau will start in the centres for the first time in Saturday night’s blockbuster derby with the Brumbies, Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has challenged his “No.1 attacking threat” to use every inch of Allianz Stadium to terrorise Australia’s conference leaders.
“You need your best players touching the ball,” Gibson said after Friday’s captain’s run.
“We’re going to use skills everywhere around the field where we can.
“So he’ll be back for kicks, he’ll be up front for attack and it’s something I think that will work quite well for us.”
Gibson revealed Folau had nagged him for a move from fullback after NSW’s last-start loss to the Melbourne Rebels, when the Waratahs’ error-filled attack left the coach exasperated.
Gibson, though, is refusing to promise the Wallabies ace permanent residency in the midfield alongside returning playmaker Kurtley Beale.
“We’ll wait and see how he goes,” he said.
“But certainly in rugby league, he was a centre and he’s had that three-year period watching the game from behind and he really understands the game now.
“So it’s an opportunity for him to get some front-line action, be closer to the ball. He’s an excellent ball player – I think that’s an under-rated skill of his – so for us right now, it’s something I want to try and see how we go.”
Folau’s positional switch has come as no surprise to Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham, who knows the Waratahs are desperate for victory to stay in the finals race.
“They’ve probably looked at their performances and thought they needed to make a change,” Larkham said.
“They’ll try and get the ball in Izzy’s hands a bit more, particularly from set-piece.”
But to do so will require the Waratahs’ third-choice hooker Hugh Roach finding his targets at the lineout, which he wasn’t doing too regularly on Friday.
The Waratahs’ lineout and scrum troubles have been a huge factor in the 2014 champions’ two-from-five start and Gibson knows his side must step up against one of the competition’s best set-piece teams.
“The Brumbies for the last three or four years have been very settled,” Gibson said.
“They know their game very well so they’re very well at executing and putting pressure on other teams.
“I think what we can brace ourselves for is a high-intensity game.”