Lions to put big squeeze on Folau
Lions to put big squeeze on FolauSHARE
Israel Folau may possess the same fearsome attacking prowess as Sonny Bill Williams, but without the ball he is as otiose as any fan sitting in the stands.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann, speaking to rugby365 in an interview ahead of his team's Super Rugby showdown with the Waratahs in Sydney on Sunday, put a target on two of the home team's biggest game-breakers – Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau.
With an extra day for preparation – they travelled from New Zealand on Sunday and used Monday as their off – the Lions had plenty of time to analyse the Waratahs.
And Ackermann, who have always found the Waratahs a tough hurdle in Sydney, said the Tahs' 100 percent unbeaten home run this year proves why they are rated as serious play-off candidates.
"Sydney is a tough place to play, because there are so many distractions and it becomes a tough ask to keep the players focussed," the Lions mentor said.
"Then, if you look at them as a team, they have plenty of quality across the park. They have an all-Wallaby front row, international loose forwards and in the backs they have class players like Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau.
"They have the players to rank among the best in the competition."
However, that doesn't mean the Lions – hoping to end a five-match losing streak – are throwing in the towel.
To the contrary, Ackermann believes there is a simple solution to eliminating the threat posed by the tournament's top try-scorer.
"If things work out well, then Israel Folau will hopefully not see too much possession," Ackermann told rugby365.
"Hopefully our defence can put them under enough pressure that he doesn't see too much free ball in open play, which will allow him to run around freely.
"He is a quality player and they always look to get him into the game – even if it is with cross-field kicks. Those are all aspects that we have to look at and plan for."
The Lions coach believe that dominance in the set pieces, together with the speed of their defensive line will put them under enough pressure to cut down Folau's space and time.
"We know how damaging he can be when given space and time," he said, adding: "We mustn't sit and wait for them [on defence]. If you sit and wait for them and allow them to make their passes and create their plays, then they are at their most dangerous.
"The teams that shut them down and put pressure on had more success – that is because they don't have the time to make good decisions and that is when the errors come into their game.
"The big thing is that they want to get the ball in his hands so the other players can run off him, much like the Chiefs and All Blacks did with Sonny Bill Williams.
"He [Folau] is good at off-loading in the tackle.
"We need to starve him of possession and that starts up front [among the forwards] and on the inside – everybody who are in the [defensive] line must work hard so that so that he doesn't see the ball."
By Jan de Koning