Folau fit and firing for opener

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson has confidence that Israel Folau will be firing in their Super Rugby opener against the Reds.

Folau played 50 minutes in the Waratahs’ final trial against the Highlanders and Gibson was pleased with the attacking potency he showed in his first match after ankle surgery.

“The way he performed last week getting through 50 minutes of work, numerous line breaks, looking very threatening and dangerous,” he said.

“If anything he's going to be short of match fitness but certainly he’s looking exciting  and enthusiastic to play for us.”

Kurtley Beale will be playing at flyhalf, a move Gibson said on Friday was on the cards even before a shoulder injury to incumbent Bernard Foley.

Foley only returned to Waratahs training a fortnight ago, coming off the bench in the final trial before his injury and Gibson said he had wanted to ease him into the season after a Japanese Top League stint.

“My plan all along was to start Kurtley at 10 for this game,” he said.

“I knew Bernard was coming off Japan we  didn’t know what condition he’d be in.

“With Kurtley, his growth and maturity from the World Cup and belief in himself has really improved and it’s given him the confidence to run our team from 10. “

Rob Horne returns to the centres and Gibson said it was up to the Wallabies winger to stamp ownership on the spot left absent by veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper.

Folau is  Horne’s major competition for the 13 spot but has indicated a preference to play at 15, while Gibson has alluded to a desire to see Folau in the midfield in the longer term.

“He’s (Horne) turned himself into one of the premier wingers in Australia but he’s always been an outside centre,” he said.

“He played inside centre in 2013 and always had a preference for outside centre .For me it’s his first opportunity to stake a claim on that 13 jersey.”

While the focus of the derby has been on the wholesale turnover of the Reds, Gibson and his captain Michael Hooper were quick to throw themselves in the same boat.

“Our turnover’s been 15 players which is the biggest in our history,” Gibson said.

“For us to change and transition in that process all our focus has been on ourselves.”

Many of their younger faces including Jed Holloway and David Horwitz have featured in the Waratahs academy in recent years, a fact that Hooper said gave him confidence.

“It’s the same situation for us (as the Reds), we’ve lost numerous players,” he said.

“But like us they’ve got players who’ve now developed through the squad, developed through the academy and who’ve really impressed in trials.

“They’re no different we’re no different and it’s going to make for a good first game of the year.”