Israel Folau (AP)
Sydney - Israel Folau has always made a big first impression and only the
foolhardy would bet against him doing so again later this month when he makes
his Rugby World Cup debut for Australia.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has chopped and changed his starting side
this year but there is little doubt Folau will occupy Australia's number 15
shirt against Fiji on September 23.
Eighteen tries in 33 Tests make him the most potent weapon in the Wallabies
backline and until he was rested from the match against the United States last
week, he had played in every Test since he won his first cap in June 2013.
British and Irish Lions fans will need no reminding of his test debut at
Lang Park in Brisbane.
With his second touch of the ball he scooped up Will Genia's grubber kick to
score his maiden test try, adding a second by scything through three
red-shirted defenders after halftime.
It was a start, albeit in a losing effort, that echoed his explosive entry
into rugby league as a 17-year-old, when he scored the winning try in the dying
seconds of his Melbourne Storm debut.
Four brilliantly prolific years and five Australia caps followed in the more
popular of the country's rugby codes before he made an extraordinary switch to
The Sydneysider's freakish athleticism alone was not enough to conquer the
indigenous code, however, and at the end of 2012 he snubbed a string of rugby
league suitors to join the Waratahs.
That brought him together with Cheika, who oversaw Folau's transition into
the 15-man game as first a winger and then at fullback.
Almost inevitably, he picked up a couple of tries in his first ever game of
union and by the end of 2013 had equalled fellow former league international
Lote Tuqiri's record season tally of 10 tries for Australia.
Tighter marking followed as opponents woke up to his threat but he still
managed six tries in his second season with a struggling Wallabies side and a
record 12 as the Waratahs won a first Super Rugby title.
Folau has pace and power to burn, while his ability to augment his height
with a leap that many a basketball player would envy makes wise opponents think
twice before kicking the high ball to him.
Quietly spoken and deeply religious, the 26-year-old is a sometimes awkward
presence in front of the media but his moments of discomfort on the pitch are
relatively few these days.
Last month, he became the first player to win back-to-back John Eales medals
as Australia's Player of the Year and more accolades will be his due if he can
help the Wallabies out of a first round pool that also includes England and