England preparing for Folau at fullback

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

England is preparing for Israel Folau to line up at fullback in Saturday’s Test series opener.

A potential move to the midfield has been touted for the incumbent Wallabies 15 and England centre Jonathan Joseph said he was as much in the dark as anyone else about Michael Cheika’s selections.

“They’re pretty similar to what you guys think, we’re not really sure what combination they’re going to come with,” he said.

“For us we have a rough idea of how they’re going to attack us and how they’re going to play and we’re very focused on what we’re about and what we can impose on them, attack wise and defensively.

“We’ve been very focused on ourselves this week and what we can do to nullify them.”

Joseph said Folau would be a threat anywhere but expects him to don his usual spot in the backfield at Suncorp Stadium.

“Israel’s a great player, he’s obviously played the majority of his career at fullback but I’ve seen he’s played a lot of 13 this season,” he said.

“Personally I think he’ll play at fullback but he’s a great player, great feet, hard to defend against but also could be opportunities there as well.”

Where will Folau play? Photo: ARU Media/Stu WalmsleyCheika has hinted that usual 13 Tevita Kuridrani would take up the outside spot, with a number of contenders to play inside him, with the absence of Christian Lealiifano throwing Samu Kerevi, Karmichael Hunt and Reece Hodge into the mix.

England has its own centres questions to answer, with Ben Te’o in the mix for the first Test after just a week with the team.

Te’o missed Monday’s training session but completed Tuesday’s, keeping him on track for a possible Test debut.

Joseph said there wouldn’t be any gamble in picking Te’o in the centres, but the picks were far from cemented.

“I think he’s here on merit. He’s performed very well for Leinster,” he said.

"I’ve played against him a few times and he’s played very well in those games. If he gets his shot like many others that get given their shot, I’m sure he’ll take it with both hands and put on the best performance he can.

“He’s told us already how passionate he is and what it means to him to be in the squad as it is and if he gets given an opportunity I’m sure he’ll do great.

England centre Jonathan Joseph doesn't think he'll be running at Folau. Photo; Getty ImagesWallabies defence coach Nathan Grey said on Tuesday that Teo’s lack of Test rugby experience woul be an obvious weakness, despite his history in State of Origin and NRL sides.

“He’s been playing for a number of years now but obviously taking that step up and playing at international level is a big step,” he said.

“Obviously everything gets tested at a higher level, you’ve got less time, you’ve got less space, your skills under pressure and your execution under pressure are the hardest thing to replicate without actually getting out there and playing."

Grey did add a qualifier to that assessment, though, saying there was no blanket rule for how someone would handle the jump to international rugby.

“Guys can step up and play at that level very quickly and if he’s in that situation where he gets the honour to do that for his country then I’ve got no doubt he’ll really step up and perform to his best.”

The Wallabies name their team on Thursday morning, while England will announce their 23 at 7pm on Thursday.