Justin Marshall 's Opinion

Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Two men the All Blacks must contain

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Israel Folau (R) of the Wallabies celebrates with Michael Hooper (L). Photo / Getty Images.
Israel Folau (R) of the Wallabies celebrates with Michael Hooper (L). Photo / Getty Images.

Much of the pre-match talk ahead of tomorrow's test match between the All Blacks and the Wallabies has centred around Kurtley Beale being named at first-five for Australia.

But I think while that is a notable call by Australian coach Ewen McKenzie, Beale is more likely to be a facilitator than a major threat and there are other dangerous players for the All Blacks to contain.

1. They must find a way to shut down Israel Folau and put pressure on him in defence and 2. Limit Michael Hooper's ability to get in to the game.

1. Folau, who is one of the game's most potent attacking weapons, had a quiet month at the back end of Super Rugby and I am picking he is ready to snap out of that funk in the Rugby Championship.

What makes Folau so challenging to bring down is his ability to move laterally for his first three or four steps when he touches the ball.

When a man is big and fast but runs straight he can be taken down easily but Folau's sideways movement is what sets him apart - he is unlike anyone I have seen in the game before.

At 1.93m, Folau is unusually tall for a back and his long legs give him a big stride ratio, which means he is hard to tackle because you can't get around his legs as you would with other players.

Folau was able to take advantage of the Crusaders a couple of times during the Super Rugby final earlier this month because Todd Blackadder's side use a passive drift defence, which gave the Waratahs custodian extra space.

The All Blacks won't be able to give Folau that time on the ball in Sydney tomorrow night and with Conrad Smith out, Malakai Fekitoa will be the man in line to contain Folau.

Fekitoa has good line speed for a centre and is a reliable defender but that aspect of his game will be tested in the white-hot atmosphere of a Bledisloe Cup encounter.

It isn't about rushing up in defence but New Zealand can't sit back and let Folau get going. The fullback is part of an impressive Australian backline that also includes the likes of Matt Toomua and Adam Ashley-Cooper.

Beale's selection at first-five says to me the Wallabies want to use the ball and their heavy-hitters in the backline will be given a licence to come looking for the ball.

2. Hooper is Australia's biggest threat in their forward pack.

Aside from being a menace at the breakdown, Hooper - another member of the Waratahs - has exceptional pace around the paddock and the All Blacks can help themselves by smothering him at ruck time to nullify his impact on the contest.

New Zealand will have an edge up front in this test match with only Hooper and Scott Fardy likely to provide any challenges at the contact areas and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will back his men to provide his side with the edge through that forward battle.

If Richie McCaw and the All Blacks can keep Folau and Hooper out of the game you can expect them to come out on top in this one.

Justin Marshall

Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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