Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Relaxed Folau ready to hunt Lions


Sporting presence is hard to define. It involves aura, charisma and poise.

Players who carry that edge do it without showboating or being ultra-cool. Israel Folau is closing on that category before his first start for the Wallabies.

He is a young man who wants success, or perhaps that should be more triumphs after topping the league charts and then having a crack at the Australian Football League.

Folau's skills have taken him from his birthplace in southwest Sydney on a dramatic rise through the senior sports grades since he was first contracted to the Storm in 2007.

While his physical gifts are impressive, his temperament is his greatest weapon. He does not rely on his natural prowess, he hits the books hard and insiders say he trains especially hard.

Folau was relaxed when our paths crossed as he and another debut Wallaby, Christian Leali'ifano, and Kurtley Beale were about to investigate the clothing sales in downtown Brisbane.

The next day he was equally calm as he gave plenty of sensible answers to the media throng about his Wallaby beginnings. Nervous? Not at all.

Many have said that sort of thing before but you sense Folau means it.

Whether he gets the chance in a Wallaby side which is fresh, has an unproven pack and some unusual backline choices, will not unfold until this evening's absorbing contest.

The Lions tried to suggest there was doubt about Folau's ability to defend on the wing. In the air? Doubtful given his AFL stint and performances in the Super 15. Surely he can punt the ball a bit from that training, too. Maybe on defence if Jonny Sexton can kick in behind him or spring some room for George North to attack down the flank. The danger for the Lions will be if they give Folau the ball and space. His size allows him to get past the advantage line and wait for support where, a bit like Sonny Bill Williams, he can offload with a range of passes.

You sense Folau wants the Lions to challenge him and he will thrive on that confrontation. The Lions would be better starving him of the ball.

If they don't understand that they should remember their last visit to Australia in 2001 and how damaging another league convert and rugby rookie Jason Robinson was when he got some ball. He danced down the first test touchline at the Gabba to score as the Lions began that series with a wallop.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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