Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Wynne Gray: Faster, higher, stronger

Israel Folau brings the spark to an earnest Australian backline. Photo / Photosport
Israel Folau brings the spark to an earnest Australian backline. Photo / Photosport

Israel Folau is the biggest drawcard in Australian rugby.

It's easy to see why in a country where flashy means headlines and in a sport which sits in the unwanted fourth place in the country's interest.

Folau makes things happen. He's the Jarryd Hayne of the rah-rah code and breaks the matrix in a largely colourless Wallaby backline.

Few have Folau's ability to play five tackle kick and aerial ping-pong to high standards before moving into that same mode as a test rugby player.

He is an extremely talented player but not quite in the all-round class of All Black Ben Smith although a more direct comparison has been waived in tomorrow's Bledisloe Cup start with Smith posted to the wing.

We'll debate that more after the test but shifting the world's best to accommodate a less-quaIified Israel Dagg does not sit well with me.

Every belief can be examined though and the promotion of TJ Perenara to reserve halfback is such a case. His play has not commanded my test interest however his rise is a reward for his excellent play throughout Super Rugby.

Folau does pique my attention. His aerial prowess and ability to sniff out defensive mismatches from phase-play will be at the core of the Wallaby hopes in Sydney.

He is seen as a lightning rod for the team chances in Bledisloe I but a greater menace from the Wallabies comes through their loose forwards.

Michael Hooper, David Pocock and Ben McCalman are a well-balanced physical and creative group whose work is pivotal to the Wallabies chances.

If they fire and are given a platform by their tight five, they can build and inspire their team to create chances for a strikeforce like Folau.

Subdue that Wallaby trio and this year's challenge for transtasman rugby supremacy could be settled in the western fringes of Sydney's suburban sprawl. That will take some doing.

Discount the Super Rugby misfires across the Ditch and certainly any theories about their scrum uncertainty. They have stabilized there, run a strong lineout and from those foundations, the loosies can go about their business.

The All Blacks bring an imposing orthodoxy with their loose forwards. Captain Kieran Read has a powerful range of skill and command, Sam Cane forages and hits with a growing intensity while Jerome Kaino is the crunch behind the concrete. It's a powerful mix which has delivered frequent proof of its reputation.

In the gold uniform there is an uncommon grouping.

Pocock is a trained open-side parked in the No8 jersey where his musculature requires an oversized uniform. So does his ticker and work rate. He tackles with a thump and is a limpet over the breakdown and with Hooper, provides a one-two hit on either side of the park.

Hooper also has rare speed and a knack of making things happen without quite the magic of an Ardie Savea who can bring his jets later from the All Black bench.

Then there's McCalman. He has gathered a reputation as a no-nonsense loosie who cleans up any mess, plugs the holes, bends the defensive line with his carries and organizes the defence.

He's handy as a lineout option and there is a flinty edge to his play where he stings with his hits and plays with a belief which has not always been the Wallaby way. He brings sense, solidity and intelligence to tuck around the twin fliers.

A year ago Pocock and Hooper were at the forefront of a famous Wallaby win in Sydney against a more fabled All Black trio led by the legendary Richie McCaw.

The All Blacks have not lost since. They have beaten the Wallabies twice including the World Cup triumph and are on an 11 win sequence. The odds favour that continuing but a year ago in Sydney, we thought that too until the Wallaby loosies spoiled the trip.

- NZ Herald

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