Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

How Israel Folau will target All Blacks midfield

Israel Folau. Photo / Photosport.co.nz
Israel Folau. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

Whether he plays at fullback or centre - and he's adamant he still doesn't know which one it will be - Israel Folau's main task on Saturday will be finding holes in the All Blacks midfield.

The All Blacks, whether they agree or not, will be viewed as being vulnerable in the midfield. It's the one area where they still don't have a good feel for their preferred combination and didn't quite develop as much as they wanted against Wales in June.

From a Wallaby perspective it's the first place they will presumably look to jam in the crow bar and see what they can exploit. The last time they played the All Blacks, they faced Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, with Sonny Bill Williams coming off the bench at half-time to replace the latter.

On Saturday, it will most likely be Ryan Crotty in the No 12 jersey with either George Moala or Malakai Fekitoa at centre - a different scenario entirely in terms of threat, experience and influence.

The Wallabies, who have the options of introducing the massively experienced Matt Giteau at second-five, may feel they have the players and skills to build a range of clever attacking ploys to pull the All Blacks out of shape and unsettle a young and inexperienced midfield pairing.

Folau, probably the best open field runner in world rugby, will be the Wallabies' preferred strike weapon as they look to use his pace, agility and strength to attack the wider channels.

The Waratahs decided this year that he was best used at centre. Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has said frequently he prefers Folau at fullback but with a roving commission to pop up where he likes and the expectation is that against the All Blacks, the number of Folau's back will make little difference.

He, in conjunction with Adam Ashley-Cooper most likely, will flit around the backline at set piece to keep the All Blacks guessing about where the point of attack might come.
"Chek [Cheika] likes to keep us on our toes which is a good thing," said Folau. "The guys are training really hard and fighting for those positions.

"We know they are a good side, but we haven't thought about them too much. Our focus has been entirely on us this week. As a team you don't want to change too much. We like the way we are playing at the moment with that wide attacking style and being smart at the same time. It is up to players across the board to read that [what is happening]."

As to how successful the Wallabies can be on Saturday with a new look backline and a whole month of preparation behind them, Folau wasn't keen to give much away.

"I don't think anyone has given us a chance, but that is all right with us. That is something we can't control as a team. As a player you just go about doing your own work. As a team you can work so hard, but it comes down to what you do on the weekend."

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