Wallabies coach Michael Cheika faces a selection dilemma as Israel Folau pushes for an overdue move to the centres for Australia’s looming Test series with England.
Folau enjoyed a ding dong battle with Australia’s incumbent No.13 Tevita Kuridrani in his first start in the midfield on Saturday night, scoring a try and edging Kuridrani in attack but twice copping palm-offs from his powerful opposite.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson plans on persisting with the positional shift for Folau – who also equalled NSW’s tryscoring record in the 26-20 Super Rugby home loss to the Brumbies – and even Wallabies attack coach Stephen Larkham admitted the superstar code hopper looked more threatening than at fullback.
Larkham, also the Brumbies coach, would be happy to have either of Kuridrani or Folau at 13 for the Wallabies, while Cheika has been foreshadowing Folau’s switch to the attacking front line for the past two years.
“He’d be probably quite happy with that game because you’ve looked at some of the games this year and he hasn’t touched the ball much at all,” Larkham said.
“He got a lot of touches and that’s what you want. A quality player like Israel, you want him to get touches on the ball.”
Asked directly would he prefer to see Folau wearing the No.13 or No.15 jumper for Australia, Larkham said: “As Wallaby attack coach, like any fan of Australian rugby, just seeing him out there is the No.1 thing.
“He’s a quality player and you want to make a difference and I think tonight at 13 he had a really good game.”
Gibson was delighted with what Folau produced playing outside Wallabies five-eighth Bernard Foley and the ever-creative Kurtley Beale.
“Yeah, certainly (that’s) one that I’m going to continue with. I thought he did very well. Very dangerous, closer to the ball and was a threat.”
Samu Kerevi, once again a shining light with a tryscoring double in the Queensland Reds’ 41-22 loss to the Bulls in Pretoria, is another monster centre option on Cheika’s radar.
But the conundrum for Cheika and Larkham in moving Folau is finding a world-class replacement fullback.
Beale, who gained his world player of the year nomination back in 2010 while playing at the back, appears the obvious option unless Cheika goes back to veteran France-based utility Adam Ashley-Cooper.
If Beale were to play fullback it would enhance the chances of Matt Giteau returning to the inside centre spot he filled at the World Cup.