Folau "very keen" to play wing after shock switch: Cheika

The Rugby Championship
by Sam Phillips

Michael Cheika predicts Israel Folau will want to wrestle back the no.15 jersey but says the star Wallaby is "very keen" to make his mark on the wing against the Pumas on Saturday.

For the second straight week, Cheika made a shock tactical switch by picking Folau on the wing - a spot he hasn't played in Test rugby for five years - and keeping Dane Haylett-Petty at fullback.

The team named to take on Argentina on the Gold Coast also sees David Pocock return from injury, Adam Coleman back on the bench and Taniela Tupou held back for impact on the pine, Folau's move to the wing on his return from an ankle injury is the boldest selection from Cheika.

Folau has started 61 straight Tests at fullback and Cheika has repeatedly stated in past years he regards the Waratahs star as too valuable a commodity at fullback to shift him to centre or wing.

No longer. With his replacement Dane Haylett-Petty among the best Wallabies' performers for the last two Tests, Folau will play on the wing for the first since the Wellington Bledisloe in August 2013.

"I don’t know if it’s a shock," Cheika said.

"I think Dane has played pretty well at fullback and I’d like to give him an opportunity to have another go at it and with Israel’s first game back in it’s just a slightly different look.

"He’s had a couple of games out and (we have) set a few things up for him in that position, we’ll see how we go."

Cheika admitted he'd always been a big fan of Folau as a fullback but says the NSW star has given every indication he will rip in against the Pumas on the edge.

"Everyone knows how highly I regard him as a 15 and I’m sure he’ll want to get that jersey back," Cheika said.

"The way he put himself about at training today, he didn’t look like he had too many second thoughts on how he’ll want to play.

"The way we play there is a certain interactivity between those two players, that winger and the fullback and they’ll be working together in a lot of different situations and just something different. Shake it up a bit and see how we go. He’s very keen for it. It’ll be good.

"We have a few things in particular that we want to bring this weekend. He’s very much up for it. He’s keen and excited."

The Folau switch move comes just one week after Cheika handed the keys to the Wallabies attack over to Kurtley Beale and Matt Toomua and relegated Bernard Foley to the bench.Israel Folau will start on the wing against Argentina. Photo: Getty ImagesWhile the pair were far from perfect in their first Test together since 2014 the foundation of a fresh look to the Australian attack were there and Cheika has clearly been impressed with the work of Haylett-Petty at No. 15.

Many pundits have long been of the opinion Haylett-Petty is best suited at fullback and he has retained the jersey for Saturday's clash with the Pumas, Jack Maddocks dropping back to the bench to accommodate for Folau.

Pocock's inclusion is the other change to the starting XV, pushing Pete Samu back to the bench and Ned Hanigan out of the 23.

"He got into some contact work and he got knocked about a bit in a short session but no one knows himself better than David. He’s declaring himself ready to go which is good," Cheika said.

There are three other personnel changes to the 23 which faced South Africa.

After making a mad dash back to Melbourne on Saturday to be with his wife for the birth of his first child Adam Coleman will come off the bench, pushing Rob Simmons out of the squad.

Nick Phipps also returns from a rib injury suffered in the Shute Shield final.

Sekope Kepu will make his 97th Test appearance from the bench and he will serve as loosehead cover should Scott Sio suffer an injury as Taniela Tupou is the only other prop named on the pine.

Tupou is a specialist tighthead, leaving Kepu as Cheika's only option at No. 1. The veteran Wallaby prop began his Super Rugby and Test career at loosehead but made the switch across the front row in the early years of his career.

The Pumas named their team earlier on Thursday.

The Wallabies face the Pumas at Robina Stadium on Saturday, kicking off at 8pm AEST, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Channel Ten and radio. Buy tickets here.


Wallabies team to face the Pumas

IN: David Pocock, Israel Folau, Adam Coleman, Nick Phipps, Sekope Kepu

OUT: Tom Robertson, Rob Simmons, Tom Banks, Joe Powell, Ned Hanigan

1. Scott Sio (48 Tests)

2. Tatafu Polota-Nau (85 Tests)

3. Allan Alaalatoa (26 Tests)

4. Rory Arnold (16 Tests)

5. Izack Rodda (10 Tests)

6. Lukhan Tui (10 Tests)

7. Michael Hooper (c) (85 Tests)

8. David Pocock (72 Tests)

9. Will Genia (93 Tests)

10. Kurtley Beale (77 Tests)

11. Marika Koroibete (14 Tests)

12. Matt Toomua (36 Tests)

13. Reece Hodge (30 Tests)

14. Israel Folau (66 Tests)

15. Dane Haylett-Petty (24 Tests)


16. Folau Faingaa (2 Tests)

17. Sekope Kepu (96 Tests)

18. Taniela Tupou (5 Tests)

19. Adam Coleman (25 Tests)

20. Pete Samu (6 Tests)

21. Nick Phipps (66 Tests)

22. Bernard Foley (61 Tests)

23. Jack Maddocks (3 Tests)