Deans excited about 'Folau factor'

Thu, 20 Jun 2013 10:43
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Australian coach Robbie Deans says Israel Folau is a player who can make things happen.

Australian coach Robbie Deans says Israel Folau is a player who can make things happen, after selecting him among three new caps to start the first Test against the British and Irish Lions.

The Brumbies pair of Ben Mowen and Christian Lealiifano will also debut Saturday against the tourists at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium, while troubled back Kurtley Beale was named on the bench.

Deans picked Folau on the wing, aiming to take advantage of the speed and athletic prowess the 24-year-old used to devastating effect in his international Rugby League career.

Folau's task will be to mark powerful Welsh wing George North, who delivered a massive boost to the Lions by convincingly passing a fitness test on his suspect hamstring to be cleared for selection.

"One of the advantages that Israel has is that the Lions have never faced him previously," Deans told a press conference.

"They will have witnessed what he is capable of and they'll be wanting to limit that because he is a bloke that makes things happen when he gets his hands on the ball and it's fully our intent to get the ball in his hands in Saturday's Test."

Folau will become Australia's 47th dual rugby international and he has been picked for the Wallabies after just nine eye-catching matches in his first season with the NSW Waratahs.

"It's certainly up there with what I've achieved in the past with both Rugby League and AFL [Australian Rules]," Folau said.

"It is a very exciting time for me. It's a great achievement so I'm looking forward to getting out there on Saturday.

"He [North] is a quality player and I'm going to have to do my homework on him and I've been doing that these past few weeks. It will be a tough challenge for me but I have to go out there and do my best and try and limit his opportunities."

Deans, who named James O'Connor in just his second game as Wallabies flyhalf, said he had no qualms about putting Folau, centre Lealiifano and Mowen, a flanker, in against the Lions in their first Test match.

"Most importantly is that they've earned that right through their play. Ben Mowen is a very experienced player at Super Rugby level, he's led, he's equipped and he's ready to go, so I've got no qualms there," Deans said.

"For Izzy [Folau] it's not really a debut as he's played at international sport before," added Deans, who also described Lealiifano as a "well rounded player, with a huge work rate."

The Wallabies starting line-up features only six players from their last Test outing, a win over Warren Gatland's Wales late last year, including fullback Berrick Barnes, centre Adam Ashley-Cooper, No.8 Wycliff Palu, lock Kane Douglas and props Ben Alexander and Benn Robinson.

Will Genia and O'Connor reunite as the inside back combination. Both players have struggled with injury, with O'Connor ruled out of all of last year's Test programme, firstly due to a lacerated liver and then by a hamstring complaint.

Also back from injury is wing Digby Ioane, who declared himself fit just four weeks after knee surgery. Beale, meanwhile, was given his chance on the bench after recently undergoing two weeks of rehab for alcohol-related issues.

The Wallabies head into the match boosted by the Lions' first non-Test defeat in Australia in 42 years following their 12-14 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra on Tuesday.

The second Test is in Melbourne on June 29 with the final clash in Sydney on July 6.

AFP

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