Israel Folau will be the first-picked fullback for the Wallabies this season, coach Michael Cheika says.
Folau has struggled for consistency this season, shifting again between outside centre and fullback with NSW’s injuries, and Cheika remains a staunch supporter of the star back.
The 28-year-old started the year at outside centre, a plan slated for the opening seven weeks, but moved back to 15 in round five.
It looked like he would be there permanently but for a hamstring injury to Rob Horne that forced Folau back into the midfield again.
Cheika said Folau’s involvements had been limited so far but that was a product of a self-sacrificing role in some senses.
“He hasn't got himself as much ball as he would've liked this year, for sure, but you can see he's trying to really do the job for the team and he's had to move back and forth,” he said.
“I think the ‘Tahs would've like to keep him at fullback (when he moved back) but then they had a few injuries so they were forced to bring him back up that game.
“I think he's working really hard for his team.”
Cheika said Folau’s impact in space was still obvious, after a silky move sent youngster Andrew Kellaway over the line in Wellington, but there simply wasn’t enough of it.
“What we need to get going now is that he's getting more ball in a bit of space,” he said.
“You saw against the 'Canes when they threw him that ball and he just shifted out on the outside and then gave it to Kellaway, that's Israel Folau right there.
“Give him that ball in space, little kick to the outside, draws the defender in, shifts it on.
“That's the situation we've got to get him the ball. Probably more than even the counterattack situation.”
Though Dane Haylett-Petty has been one of the better performers at 15 this season, Cheika said Folau was still his first-choice.
“Folau's the pick there for me at this stage,” he said.
“He's got quality and I've coached him a lot since he's been in rugby and I think that's where he's at his best when the space is there to run free.
“I understand why the Tahs need to play him at 13, it's not like he can't switch back out.
“Footy's footy he's got a few defensive things he's got to deal with, which I think he's dealt with very well, that's a challenging position to defend in and he's done that very well.
The form of Tevita Kuridrani and Samu Kerevi this season makes the sell to move Folau to 13 an even harder one, especially with Folau’s own mixed start to the year.
Folau is far from the only established Test star to come under fire this year, with Queensland's Stephen Moore and Kane Douglas also battling, but Cheika backed them to turn things around.