GOLD COAST, Australia, Sep 13 – Israel Folau will start on the wing for the first time in five years against Argentina this weekend in a surprise tactical shift after the Wallabies’ star fullback was declared fit Thursday along with influential flanker David Pocock.
Both players were late scratchings from Australia’s team against South Africa in Brisbane on Saturday, but were named in the starting XV for their Rugby Championship showdown against the Pumas on the Gold Coast.
Folau injured his ankle in the opening Bledisloe Cup match against New Zealand on August 18, while Pocock has been struggling with a neck problem after being targeted by the All Blacks in Auckland three weeks ago.
While Folau is back, with Jack Maddocks dropping to the bench, it will not be in his favoured fullback position with coach Michael Cheika opting to keep Dane Haylett-Petty in the number 15 jersey after two standout displays in his team-mate’s absence.
It is another big gamble by Cheika after he dumped veteran Bernard Foley for the Springboks clash in favour of Kurtley Beale at fly-half and Matt Toomua at inside centre.
While the two players didn’t always gel, the fresh approach paid off with the Wallabies snapping a four-match losing streak to win 23-11.
Folau has started 61 Tests at fullback dating back to the 2013 Bledisloe Cup, and Cheika has repeatedly stated he regards the NSW Waratahs star as too valuable there to shift him to centre or wing.
But that has all gone out of the window as he mixes it up with an eye on next year’s World Cup in Japan.
“Dane’s played well at fullback and I’d like to give him an opportunity to have a another go. And with Israel back in, it’s just a slightly different look and we’ll see how we go,” said Cheika.
“I think everyone knows how highly I regard him (Folau) at number 15 and I’m sure he’ll want to get that jersey back.
“They’ll be working together in a lot of situations, Israel is very keen and very much up for it.”
– ‘Ready to go’ –
The return of breakdown specialist Pocock is another huge boost for the Wallabies, who have beaten Argentina in 15 of their last 16 meetings.
His treatment at the hands of the All Blacks sparked calls for rugby chiefs to start taking illegal neck roll tackles, employed to shift him from the ruck, more seriously.
Cheika said Pocock had told him he felt ready to return and had taken part in contact training on Thursday morning.
“He got into some contact work today and he got knocked about a bit,” he said. “No one knows himself better than David and he has declared himself ready to go.”
Adam Coleman returns to the Wallabies camp after the birth of his first child and will be a replacement, with Izack Rodda starting alongside Rory Arnold in the second row.
Sekope Kepu, who was axed from the Springboks squad, is set to earn his 97th cap after also being named among the reserves.
Australia (15-1): Dane Haylett-Petty; Israel Folau, Reece Hodge, Matt Toomua; Marika Koroibete, Kurtley Beale; Will Genia, David Pocock, Michael Hooper; Lukhan Tui, Izack Rodda; Rory Arnold, Allan Alaalatoa, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio.
Replacements: Folau Faingaa, Sekope Kepu, Taniela Tupou, Adam Coleman, Pete Samu, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Jack Maddocks.