Israel Folau’s memorable Origin try in 2008.
Israel Folau’s memorable Origin try in 2008.

Return to Izzy’s NRL days can ground Rebels

ISRAEL Folau says he'd gratefully gobble up more cross kicks and high balls sent his way by NSW playmakers, and says aerial tactics could be a key to grounding the Rebels on Sunday afternoon at Allianz Stadium.

Folau is widely recognised as the best in the world as far as catching high balls are concerned but mystifyingly the Waratahs don't routinely use attacking kicks for him to score.

More often than not, the ploy works and the Bernard Foley-Folau connection appeared to be back in sync when the Tahs used a cross-kick for a flying Folau to posterize Dane Haylett-Petty and score in NSW's big trial win over the Rebels a month ago.

Haylett-Petty will be the Rebels' fullback on Sunday.

Israel Folau leaps over Rebels fullback Dane Haylett-Petty to score during a trial. of the Rebels. Picture: Walmsley
Israel Folau leaps over Rebels fullback Dane Haylett-Petty to score during a trial. of the Rebels. Picture: Walmsley

The first round saw Folau score another try when he regathered a high kick in midfield against the Stormers.

It was aerial brilliance that made Folau his name in rugby league a decade ago and the NSW fullback said he still regards it as a "strength" of his game.

"Me personally, in a game situation, I am always looking forward and am always ready for those opportunities," Folau said.

"We speak about it a whole lot, with obviously the playmakers in the team who execute or who are in a position to put those cross kicks over.

"But yeah, I know it is a strength of mine and hopefully (we will be) using that a lot more when the opportunity presents itself in a game."

The Rebels' plan to use fast line speed and aggressive defence this season was clear to see in the trial match at Brookvale, and they rattled Foley by cutting down his time with the ball.

Israel Folau at Waratahs training. Picture: Brett Costello
Israel Folau at Waratahs training. Picture: Brett Costello

The Waratahs only held a slender 7-5 at halftime until the Tahs started using short and wide kicks more to find space and race away with a 47-5 win.

With the Rebels only one of a number of teams using defence as an offensive weapon, Folau said kicks were now an important attacking weapon.

"We've spoken about that. Most teams in the competition now are starting to bring that line speed, and bringing that quick tempo in terms of the defence," Folau said.

"You have to manipulate the defence and put the questions back on them, with kicks and all those little things. Certainly make them think twice about their lines speed. The playmakers in the team certainly know they have that in their back pocket. It is a matter of making the right decision on the run and executing that skill."

The Waratahs have had the wood on the Rebels over time, with 11 wins from 13 encounters. But the Rebels have proved a tricky rival in many of those games, with many scores tight.

The Melburnians picked up a famous win in Sydney in 2016.

The Rebels are flying high.
The Rebels are flying high.

This year is a whole new ball-game, however, with the Rebels surging in form due to an influx of playing and coaching talent from the Western Force.

Folau said the Rebels were in impressive form and singled out the strength of their forward pack, who are collectively a far bigger unit than the Waratahs' pack.

"The biggest thing that stands out to me is they have a massive forward pack, which really helps their game as far as going forward," Folau said.

"The battle has got to be won up front and they have a big pack, so when they're going forward and getting over the gainline, as an outside back it is pretty easy to play off the back of that.

"They have done a pretty good job, their forwards, and if we can limit that it will certainly shut out the opportunities for their dangerous backs to get any front-foot ball.

"They look like their gelling well, as far as the two teams merging together. New coach and new players having to come together really quickly, and they seem like they're doing a good job. They're looking really good at the moment.

"We have a big challenge on Sunday."