Israel Folau: how worried should the Lions be?

For most people, turning out in the top division of their local league is a great achievement. Some may realise their childhood dream of representing a professional club and maybe even their country. A select few have the skills required to excel at two sports. Then there is Israel Folau – the man who has played in the top leagues of Rugby League, Aussie Rules and, most recently, Rugby Union. Fans of the Lions may not have heard of him, but they soon will, as he was recently named in the Wallabies 25 man squad for the upcoming Lions Tour.

So who is Israel Folau? Well, he has recently been in scintillating form for the Waratahs, helping them notch up some impressive and nail-biting victories from his berth at fullback. In fact, his performances have been so outstanding that he now looks like a certain member of the Wallabies team for this summer.

Perhaps we should start from the beginning, for it is not in rugby union that Folau began his career – it was in the other form of the game, the one that rugby union fans can at times look down their noses at. After debuting at age 17, Folau went on to become one of the most devastating players rugby league has ever seen, winning the premiership with Melbourne Storm and becoming Australia’s youngest ever international, making his debut at the age of just 18. After having an even more impressive stint at Brisbane Broncos, and winning his 2nd State of Origin series with Queensland, he had completed everything he could have dreamed of, which was probably the reason he made the shock switch to that funny game they call Aussie Rules (or AFL).

Shock is perhaps an understatement; Folau had never played the sport before and was moving to a sport where kicking is perhaps the most important skill to have, something he had not done a lot of during his time in league. Cynics would point towards a mutually beneficial partnership that saw Folau become one of the highest paid players in the game and saw the AFL steal rugby league’s star player, a great marketing tool in the highly competitive Australian sports market.

So, aged just 22, Folau found himself with a four year, $6 million contract with Greater Western Sydney. Unfortunately, his time playing in the AFL was not as glittering as his league career, with Folau only making 13 appearances and struggling to adapt to the different rigours that the code brings. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he decided that rugby was more his thing – although he wasn’t going back to his roots, but to the NSW Waratahs in the Super 15.

Since changing codes, Folau has rediscovered the form that led him to become a star in rugby league. In just eleven games, Folau has already run in seven tries and helped the team to some great victories, leading a resurgence that has seen them win their last three games, including last weekend’s come from behind win over Aussie conference leaders the Brumbies. He leads the competition for number of runs and metres made and is in the top five for tries, offloads and try assists. These performances bring us up to date in the career of Folau, and are the reason why he already has one foot on the field for the opening game of the Lions tour.

So why should the Lions be afraid? Well, there are many reasons, simply due to the fact that he is one of the stand-out athletes of his generation. Perhaps the main one though is his size – he stands at 6ft 5ins and has the power to match this physique. So what though? After all, there are plenty of rugby players with this height. That’s true, but there aren’t many who can match this height to the kind of blistering speed exhibited by Folau, meaning that he can run past, or through, nearly any player facing him in the world. Comparisons to Lomu might be premature, but they could one day be made, such is Folau’s potential. At times it is hard to believe he is still in just his first season of rugby union and even he admits that he still has many aspects of the game to learn.

When you look at the Lions squad it is tough to see a player who could stand up to Folau. As with all players, there is bound to be a weakness to Folau somewhere along the line, but the fact that he has only been playing union for a short while is perhaps his trump card – Warren Gatland simply won’t have had the time to analyse him and come up with plans. So, the Lions will have to play it by ear and see what they can do – a plan that can only play right into the hands of Robbie Deans and his Wallabies team.

By Ilan Hurwitz
Ilan runs the Australian web site Football Jerseys Online where you can purchase Jerseys from the most popular teams including the British & Irish Lions & the Wallabies.

19 thoughts on “Israel Folau: how worried should the Lions be?

  1. “When you look at the Lions squad it is tough to see a player who could stand up to Folau.”

    A touch of exaggeration there I feel.

    Folau 6’5 and 15 stone 6

    North 6’4 and 17 stone 2

    Cuthbert 6’6 and 17 stone

    Roberts 6’4 and 17 stone 5

    Tuilagi 6’1 and 17 stone 9

    I don’t think they’ll be overly worried about his size and I doubt he has much on North or Cuthbert in terms of speed, or on Tuilagi in terms of power

    1. The way I read that was more stand up against in terms of having his size, pace and footwork. Which I think is fair. Folau is as big as the Lions guys but has incredible pace and footwork.

      I don’t know, but I would say he looks quicker than the Welsh wingers, and he definitely has far superior footwork. He probably isn’t as powerful as Roberts of Tuilagi but he offers a lot more than those two.

      Very dangerous player.

    2. Agree that it won’t be his power that frightens the Lions, it’s more about his offloading ability and the way he puts people in space. Comparisons have been made to SBW, which are certainly a bit premature, but there are definite similarities.

      1. On the nose there Jamie. I watched alot of him in the NRL and he’s just one of those guys that make something happen when nothing seems to be on.

        He has the size and speed, his footwork is mesmerising but for me hi hands are his greatest asset.

        Maybe his kicking is his weak point, I’ve not seen much of him with the Waratah’s to comment on that to be honest.

    3. Pablito, Im living in Sydney,I’ve watched every game he’s played for the waratahs. Folau’s spped and power are impressive and you have correctly identified that he will be well matched in these departments by the above named Lions. However its not his size or speed that makes him so good its his hands. Think Sonny Bill Willams. His offloading skill is unbelieveable. Due to his speed and power it will take more than one Lion to stop him and more ofeten than not he’ll still get an offload. If we are gonna win this series we must stop IZZY

  2. The most impressive thing about him though, is his fielding of the high ball, and his one on one attack. He manages to nearly always beat the first man.

    1. Agreed fielding high kicks is a I think why he is in there I think Deans is expecting a lot of bombs and hes perfect to counter them.

      I wouldn’t say hes definitely outperforming Mogg but he suits Deans’s game plan better.

    2. Nailed it EngineMan. He’s got what the Wallabies need.

      I had hoped my misery over the Irish performance earlier this year would be relieved by the Waratahs. Oh well…..

  3. The next Lomu? I agree with ‘Pablito’ in that the likes of Tuilagi, North, Cuthbert and BOD will not be up at nights thinking about this fella. He’s a devastating runner with ball in hand and is also very secure under the high ball; it will be interesting to see him up against North, Cuthbert etc

  4. I’ve looked at a few clips on youtube and he looks pretty good (made to look even better by some awful tacking in some of the clips!) but the article suggested that we have a new Jonah in this guy.

    Lomu had such an effect when he burst on the scene because no-one had seen someone of his size and speed before. The opposition didn’t know what to do to contain him

    Big fast guys are much more the norm nowadays and on the whole defences has fewer problems with them.

    1. I think comparing him to Lomu was strange. Lomu was about power and speed, he ran at people. Folau is more about his hands, his feet, and yes he has power and speed as well.

      For me, I think he is more rounded player than a lot of the Lions backs, but certainly not Lomu.

  5. The lions have pace, and the lions have power.
    The biggest worries that folau will cause are with his footwork, offloading and passing. He has speed and power combined with creativity. This combination is something that the lions lack in individual visual players.

    Apparently Folau has a pretty big vertical jump as well, and his time playing AFL will definitely have helped with his catching. Being 6ft5 and having a big vertical jump will mean he is a real threat, both under the high ball and in cross field kicks.

    His code hopping past should mean he has all the skills of a league player, but the kicking and catching from AFL. The only things he will have had to learn in union are rucking and mauling (and as a 15 he doesn’t even do then much)

  6. I’m sure I remember people saying very similar things about Lote Tuquiri and Wendell Sailor – neither of whom really lived up to the hype

    1. I wouldnt put Sailor and Tuqiri in the same bracket. Lote was a huge amount more successful of a convert than Wendell was.

  7. I watch a lot of Super Rugby, and this guy is good! His defense was a worry entering the competition, but he has shown that he is up to the task. And where I can agree with Jamie about his comparison with Lomu, is that when Folau captivates the opposition so much, it opens up for the rest of the team. Against the Brumbies – ie Mogg vs Folau – Jake White’s men were so preoccupied with watching Folau, the winger Peter Betham ran holes through them. Mogg has lost a bit of his oomph after his injury, but he is an excellent assett, with both of them in the team, sparks are sure to fly!

  8. Having only seen him play in a few S15 games I have noticed that yes he may have great footwork and pace but he struggles in the tackle on occasion.

    This is especially notable when scrambling. If the Lions use their kicking in the final third wisely then Folau may struggle.

  9. But lets be realistic about this 1 player does not make a team, he may be a amazing player speed may be lightning his pace may be ever going his power may be frightening but if the lions dont give the wallabies posession hes going no where and thats when they should be afraid of BOD, cuthbert and north and so on.

    1. “1 player does not make a team”

      1 player?

      have you forgotten about Genia, O’Connor, Barnes, Leali’ifano, Tomane, Cummins, Ioane and Ashley-Cooper.

      Plus there is still a chance for Beale and/or Cooper to make it into the squad. and room for a couple other backs.

      i think the wallabies have more than 1 player to worry the lions.

  10. Yes i know the australians have amazing backs better than everyone in the world and when you see that squad your scared, with that talent they dont need cooper and beale.
    But the way they made it sound in the article it souds like hes invisible it sounds like he can do the lions on his own.

Comments are closed.