The NSW Waratahs plan to use attacking trump Israel Folau as a defensive weapon in Friday night’s Super Rugby crunch match with the Highlanders in Sydney.
The Highlanders return to Allianz Stadium as reigning champions after ending the Waratahs’ title defence last year in a semi-final ambush.
Defensive coach Nathan Grey has warned his Waratahs there can be no napping this time around and says the hosts will thrust Folau forward in a bid to nullify the threat of All Blacks powerhouse Malakai Fekitoa.
Folau will likely be named as usual at fullback but will share outside centre duties with starting No.13 Rob Horne.
“I think Izzy might be jumping up into that front line, definitely,” Grey said on Tuesday after Waratahs training.
“He provides spark for us up there and he’s a very, very strong defender.
“You got to see from that Brumbies game, when he’s in that front line, he’s very good in that 13 channel, so that’s something we can use.”
Folau has long been mooted for a permanent move to the centres but is yet to start there for the Waratahs or Wallabies.
But the dual international insists he’s ready.
“You want to cover all bases and, whatever position I play for the team, that’s entirely up to the coaching staff,” he said.
“But I’m obviously prepping myself to make sure I cover everything I have to.”
Fekitoa aside, the Highlanders possess attacking threats across the park, with fullback Ben Smith and five-eighth Lima Sopoaga in particular also sure to prove a handful for the Waratahs.
“They’re world-class players so we know how dangerous they are. It’s going to be a tough game,” Folau said.
Grey knows it will take an 80-minute performance for the Waratahs to bounce back from their last-start 32-15 loss to the Brumbies with a much-needed win to stay in touch with the competition pacesetters.
“They can score points from a number of different sources,” Grey said.
“They’re good on turnovers, they’re good at creating those turnovers and they’ve got a really good tactical, sharp kicking game.
“So we’re definitely going to have to be on our toes from a defensive perspective.
“You just can’t take a breath. You just have to make sure whenever the ball is in play and, sometimes when it’s out of play – in terms of quick lineouts – that you’re on your toes and ready to go.”
Kurtley Beale will again wear the Waratahs’ No.10 jumper with Bernard Foley ruled out by the shoulder injury that has sidelined the Wallabies’ five-eighth since the pre-season trials.
The Waratahs are confident Foley will be back for Sunday week’s round-five conference derby with the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.