"Freak from day dot": Israel Folau on the verge of Super Rugby record for most tries

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

Israel Folau has scored some scintillating tries in seven years of Super Rugby but his first was not among them. It was dog ugly.

In round two of his first season as a Waratahs player in 2013, Folau was lurking out on the right edge when approaching winger Tom Kingston tried to get a pass away.

It bounced off Digby Ioane and flew forwards to Bernard Foley, who smartly ran through, drew the fullback and found Folau for a try.

With a wobbly pass almost at Folau's feet.

“It was a genuine doosra that ball,” Foley recalled this week.

"I don’t think he knew the laws of rugby at that point. Still he loves a try at Suncorp doesn’t he?”

After scoring 19 tries in 22 rugby league games at the Brisbane venue, Folau would later score two tries in the same corner of Suncorp Stadium in his Wallabies debut against the British and Irish Lions.

And he would go on scoring tries in Super Rugby, too. Tonnes of them.

In seven seasons with NSW, Folau has scored 58 tries and sits one behind the all-time record holder for most Super tries, Kiwi speedster Dougie Howlett.

Howlett scored his 59 tries in 104 Super Rugby games - mostly for the Blues - and Folau has scored his 58 tries in 91 games.

Israel Folau scored a spectacular try for the Waratahs. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyIt is only a matter of when Folau breaks the record, not if. And if the star-laden Waratahs backline fires at the SCG against Queensland, that milestone may arrive on Saturday night.

Like try number one, Foley has laid on a significant amount of those 58 meat pies for Folau. 

The reality he was going to be a potent strike weapon for NSW was clear to Foley from the first day Folau arrived at Tahs’ training, underweight and out of practice with a rugby ball after a few years in Aussie Rules.

"I still remember his first training session at the Waratahs,” Foley said.

"He did something freakish down the edge, he caught a ball around his toes and flicked it back inside, and this was a guy who hadn’t played with a rugby ball for three years.

"I just remember thinking what a freak he was, or he is, from day dot.

"He looked so skinny when he first came in, too, because he’d only done running in AFL. He wasn’t allowed to do weights so he looked so skinny.

"But he still had his trademark legs and he was still a freak of an athlete, and had the skills there from day one.

"His physical prowess is just exceptional and we get to see that every day. But when he gets into that game mode and near the try line, he goes to another level. 

"He can score tries other blokes can’t, just by the way he beat defenders or attract defenders but still have the power to score a try.”

With the luxury of proximity at NSW and with the Wallabies, Foley has a decent grasp on why Folau is so dangerous. 

It’s just not his ability to run past a guy and touch the ball down.

There are no flukes when it comes breaking records, and Folau’s ability to be in the right place at the right time as a support runner is superb.

His aerial work is world-class, too, and he has probably helped set up as many tries as he’s scored, reckons Foley.

Folau celebrates his 30th try"He is not just a ball runner, he is actually very good in offloads too,” Foley said.

"His offloads have been highest in the comp or near to it for most of those years as well. 

"He has got his aerial prowess as well. So having those different dimensions makes him pretty hard to defend.

"The thing about Iz is his versatility. He has played most of his games at fullback but in a lot of our set piece plays, he is not in the traditional fullback spot. We move him around and play in tighter as a ball player, be the hole runner or otherwise be out wide. 

"When he runs hard lines, it’s actually very rare that he gets whacked. He has the ability and timing to avoid a big collision and get his head through.”

Folau’s versatility will be called upon at the SCG, with the Waratahs shifting the Wallabies no.15 to wing, to accomodate Kurtley Beale at the back.

No dramas, reckons Foley.

"I think he will relish being on the wing, and having a guy like Kurtley running inside him,” he said. 

"It’s up to us to get him the ball and get him into space. He has known 15 for so long so he knows that roving role, and that’s how he’ll play. He won’t just be sticking on the wing. He’ll find a try or two.”

The Waratahs take on the Waratahs at the SCG on Saturday March 9, kicking off at 7:45pm AEDT, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.