Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: All Blacks wary of Israel Folau threat

Israel Folau has scored 20 tries in 41 tests. Photo / Greg Bowker
Israel Folau has scored 20 tries in 41 tests. Photo / Greg Bowker

Israel Folau, the Wallabies' one strike weapon who was a constant threat in the Rugby World Cup final despite being hampered by an ankle injury, is likely to come in for special attention from the All Blacks in the rematch between the nations on Saturday.

Their plans will centre on how best to limit the damage the former league and Australian rules player provides on attack with his ability to break tackles either by brute force or speed. And his skill under the high ball means the All Blacks' kicking game at Sydney's ANZ Stadium has to be on target or they could be on the receiving end of a counter-attack.

For halfback Aaron Smith, the key is to put the fullback under pressure when he leaps for the ball.

"If I get the kick wrong, he has time to get a run-up on, but I back myself to put it near the mark most of the time," Smith said.

"One positive [from a contestable kick] is he can't run. If we don't win the contact, then at least put him on the ground so he's not a threat out wide. We'll find out in the next few days about our plans to nullify him, but guys like him, you can't nullify, it's just about limiting the opportunities he has.

"For me, it's about putting my kicks on the money so at least it gives our wingers a chance to get in the air and bang bodies or get the ball back. We know he can jump high but anything can happen when you know someone's coming at you."

If the 27-year-old Folau, who has scored 20 tries in 41 tests, has the potential to light up the pitch in front of a likely capacity crowd, the two nations' head coaches, Michael Cheika and Steve Hansen, could be responsible for igniting the fuse.

It will be interesting to see how Cheika, strangely reluctant to engage with compatriot Eddie Jones during England's June tour of Australia, in which the Wallabies finished on the wrong end of a whitewash, responds to Hansen's barbs this week.

The All Blacks coach suggested in June that Cheika allowed Jones to bully him, and halfback Smith believes the transtasman rivalry could begin well before the teams take the field.

Asked whether he expected any banter between the two coaches, Smith said: "I don't know, mate. They both like to have a word, so I'm sure there will be some shots fired this week. It's something nice for you fellas to write about and stir it up. What they say [in the media] doesn't really affect us as players, but there's always something that happens during these Bledisloe Cup weeks that excites you, so that's cool."

The fact the All Blacks are returning to the scene of their last defeat will provide an extra edge this week and loose forward Jerome Kaino believes the memories of last November's World Cup final, which the All Blacks won 34-17, will still be fresh in Australian minds.

"A lot of them did play in that final and they'll use a bit of that as motivation," Kaino said. "A lot of them have been together for four or so weeks so they will be firing to get into us."

Due to questions about the fitness of flanker Sam Cane and prop Joe Moody, Matt Todd and Kane Hames have travelled with the squad of 32 as injury cover. Cane, recovering from concussion, is more likely to play than Moody, who has been out of the game since before the June internationals with a neck issue.

The inclusion of Todd and Hames meant Luke Romano and Elliot Dixon have stayed home.

All Blacks squad

For Sydney test

Forwards: Dane Coles, Nathan Harris, Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Owen Franks, Kane Hames, Joe Moody, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Samuel Whitelock, Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino, Kieran Read, Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Matt Todd.

Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Lima Sopoaga, Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, Anton Lienert-Brown, George Moala, Israel Dagg, Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea, Ben Smith.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 06 Dec 2016 10:07:38 Processing Time: 580ms