Wallabies coach Michael Cheika appears set to resist the urge to move Israel Folau from fullback despite his scintillating form in the centres.
But five-eighth Bernard Foley, who has watched Folau’s successful switch to No.13 from close range with the NSW Waratahs, believes his sheer presence could open up untold attacking riches for his teammates if Cheika changes tack during the three-Test series against England.
“(Folau) is really good at counter-attack from the back but what I’ve really enjoyed this year from him playing at 13 is just the ability to attract defenders, especially in that front line,” Foley said.
“Even the times he doesn’t get the ball, he commits more defenders and that probably opens up space for other people.”
With all other positions close to settled, the midfield make-up remains the biggest selection quandary for Australia ahead of the series opener at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
Cheika strongly indicated last week that Tevita Kuridrani will retain his No.13 jersey, having been a fixture of the national team since taking over in late 2014, and the coach gave another hint on Monday morning by putting him up for media duties.
But that was as big a clue as he was willing to give.
“We’ve got a very good idea in our head of what we’re going to do but as we always do, we like to let the week unfold and just see what happens,” he said.
Cheika is clearly intent on keeping his cards close to his chest, restricting access to all Wallabies training sessions this series to only the first 15 minutes.
That edict also includes Queensland Rugby Union staff, who have been told they can’t loiter in the stands at Ballymore, where the Australian side is based this week – even if they might work there.
Kuridrani said Folau’s form had put extra pressure on him to keep his spot in the team, but admitted he also had no read on Cheika’s plans.
Assuming he stays put at outside centre, the mystery then shifts across to No.12, where Folau, Christian Lealiifano, Karmichael Hunt, Reece Hodge and Samu Kerevi are the contenders.
A line can be drawn through most of those names fairly quickly.
Folau has never played there before and will remain at fullback, the position he has dominated for the last three years.
Lealiifano is still in Canberra by his pregnant wife’s side, and the Wallabies train together only once more before the team is named on Thursday.
Hunt is battling a groin strain and hasn’t played in the centres for the Queensland Reds this year, while it would be a huge gamble to throw nine-game Melbourne Rebels rookie Hodge into a starting debut against England.
That leaves Kerevi, who despite being uncapped, is comfortable at Suncorp Stadium, has prior experience at No.12 and would form a powerful pairing alongside Kuridrani.