The NSW Waratahs are backing Israel Folau to once again blow the Brumbies open as the 2014 champions look to make a major statement in Friday night’s Super Rugby derby in Canberra.
The Waratahs head to the national capital chasing a fifth straight win over the Brumbies in what is being billed as a ferocious forwards battle between Australia’s front-running franchises.
The Waratahs make no secret of their intent to target the Brumbies’ lineout in a bid to limit the hosts’ time in possession and are banking on superstar fullback Folau to ultimately prove the difference.
Folau was NSW’s most potent attacking threat in a hard-earned 13-10 win in the corresponding fixture last year, then broke a four-match tryscoring drought and laid on two more five-pointers for teammates in the Waratahs’ commanding 28-13 return victory in Sydney.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson is not the least bit surprised by how well Folau has bounced back from off-season ankle surgery and senses another big performance coming from the dual international.
“He’s been the difference a lot of the times in those close encounters. It’s been a bit of Folau brilliance that’s separated the two teams,” Gibson said on Thursday.
“He came back off the World Cup disappointed with his performance there. He’s a very motivated athlete, had three months to reflect on that, get himself right physically and you can see he’s hungry.
“And that’s a good place for the Waratahs for one of their best players to be.”
As ever, much of the pre-match focus has centred on Michael Hooper’s back-row showdown with Brumbies No.7 David Pocock, but the Waratahs captain also believes Folau can be the gamebreaker rather than either of the world-class flankers.
“I see Izzy brilliance every week,” Hooper said after the Waratahs’ captain’s run in Sydney.
“I’m still always blown away by what he can put on the field each week.
“Izzy’s looking fit, as good as I’ve seen him, and some touches briefly last week were really special.
“I just want to get the ball in his hands so he can work his magic.
“And with KB (five-eighth Kurtley Beale) looking sharp, it takes some heat off Izzy. Other backs are looking good too. Our backline is looking really good across the field.”
The Brumbies boast a slick backline themselves and, buoyed by last week’s 52-10 shellacking of the Hurricanes, coach Stephen Larkham is confident his charges can contain the Waratahs too.
“The Hurricanes came off last year’s campaign as the second-best team in the competition and the best attacking team,” Larkham said.
“We had a big focus going into that game and I think we handled that quite well, internally, and I think this week’s the same.
“We come up against a Waratahs team who were one of the best attacking teams in the competition last year and started this season quite well.”