Folau puts hand up for Lions Tour
Rugby league convert Israel Folau has spectacularly celebrated his Super Rugby debut with two tries in the HSBC Waratahs' 24-16 trial win over the Melbourne Rebels in Hobart.
Folau looked a fish back in water as he swerved to beat three Rebels and put the ball down one-handed before wildly celebrating the five-pointer with teammates in the 12th minute of the four-tries-to-two victory at North Hobart Oval, that also saw newcomer Cam Crawford and invited player Peter Samu cross.
After the match, Folau said his rugby union and HSBC Waratahs debut had lived up to his expectations. “Yes it certainly was (everything I had hoped for), I couldn’t ask for a better start to my rugby career. Now it’s done and dusted I’ve got to look forward to more week.
“It was certainly very enjoyable playing my first rugby game and I can get a lot of confidence out of finishing this game well.
"It was pretty challenging and that was what I expected. I got a bit of everything today, I got yellow carded as well, but I’m looking forward to next week.
A former rugby league international, Folau admitted he had adapted comfortably to the 15-man code. “It’s very similar (to rugby league) and I’ve felt very at home since I’ve joined the club. I’ve been really relaxed and that’s how I felt going into the game.
“I found the positional play really challenging, mainly in defence, and from fullback it’s very different to the way a rugby league fullback plays.
“I’ve got a to learn a few more things during the week but otherwise I’m pretty happy with how it went.”
The former rugby league international and AFL marketing tool produced the goods with just his third touch in the 15-man game.
He repeated the dose with the last play of the game, crossing in the left corner while playing outside centre.
He might have had a third try in the 34th minute but unselfishly offloaded for winger and fellow debutant Cam Crawford when Folau could easily have crossed himself.
In his first game in charge, new Head Coach Michael Cheika was delighted with the performance of his new side including Folau, who also spent time on both wings.
"Positionally (at fullback) he was probably in much better sync than I thought he might be," Cheika said.
"Obviously his natural talent showed on a couple of occasions very well and I think he looked pretty comfortable really.
"All he has to do is enjoy himself and make our team and his talent will do the rest from there."
And on an eventful evening for the former Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos star, Folau was yellow-carded for a 54th minute breakdown infringement, helping the Rebels score a try through Tom English two minutes later.
Starting at fullback, Folau's kicking game was non-existent as the Waratahs made good on Cheika's new attacking mantra.
But he got a feel for his new game with a big tackle on a flying Lachie Mitchell in just the second minute.
Folau had switched to the right wing before he was carded in the second half of the opening trial for both franchises, played in front of 9751 people, and also spent time on the left.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans was one interested spectator but was reluctant to single Folau out.
"It's good to see him playing rugby," Deans told reporters.
"He's obviously playing well."
Rebels and Wallabies winger Cooper Vuna briefly sent a scare through his camp when he copped a shoulder knock but it was revealed to be a stinger, and not on his troublesome left joint.
In a four-quarter game, the Rebels led 6-5 at the first break following two penalty goals from James O'Connor.
The HSBC Waratahs led 12-11 at halftime after Crawford's second quarter try.
They scored first in the third through Pete Samu for 19-11 before English hit back to make it 19-16.
Folau's 81st minute effort, beating two defenders, capped the Waratahs' win.
HSBC Waratahs 24 - 16 Rebels
North Hobart Oval, Hobart
HSBC Waratahs: tries - Folau (2), Crawford, Samu; cons - McKibbin, Foley.
Yellow cards: Folau, Atkins