Folau set for Wallabies

Stunning rise: Israel Folau has been picked to play against the Lions.First TestWallabies v British & Irish LionsSuncorp Stadium, Saturday 8pm

Israel Folau’s stunning rise in his third code is complete, with Wallabies coach Robbie Deans naming the NSW Waratahs full-back on the right wing against the British and Irish Lions on Saturday.

Folau will be one of three Wallabies debutants, with Christian Lealiifano and Brumbies teammate Ben Mowen also getting the nod when the side is officially unveiled on Thursday.

Berrick Barnes has been given first crack at the No. 15 jersey to provide voice and direction to the back three of Folau and Digby Ioane. Kurtley Beale’s return to the Wallabies will come from the bench.

Despite their versatility, Hugh McMeniman and Peter Kimlin have missed out on a bench spot, with the Wallabies opting for a specialist second-rower, the Reds’ Rob Simmons. It is understood a lack of rugby counted against McMeniman.

Liam Gill will also start on the pine, alongside James Slipper and Sekope Kepu who will be asked to cover the loose-head and tight-head positions respectively.

Pat McCabe’s ability to cover a number of positions – he has spent some time at No. 13 in training – sees him win a spot in the 23.

The Waratahs’ Kane Douglas has nailed down the contentious No. 5 position to partner James Horwill in the second row, and Wycliff Palu has overcome his injury doubts to take his place in the back row alongside Michael Hooper and Mowen. Douglas’ extra grunt at scrum time came into the selection calculations, especially after the injury-enforced absence of Sitaleki Timani.

The inclusion of Lealiifano ahead of McCabe signals the Wallabies’ intent to play with width and pace, but it is his kicking game that will equally be as important. Deans will have noted how the Brumbies found space against the Lions on Tuesday night, and will be mindful of playing a territory game as well as feeding the athletes on the outside. James O’Connor, too, will be glad to see another playmaker outside him, with the Rebels’ No. 10’s experience scant at this level. But it is the inclusion of Folau after less than one full season of Super Rugby that will be a major talking point, especially in the city where he has performed strongly for Queensland in the state of origin arena. Just five months after a tentative Super Rugby debut against the Reds at Suncorp Stadium, Folau’s form and line-breaking ability has made him impossible to ignore for Deans.

Folau’s diligence in seeking out and absorbing information away from the paddock has also impressed the Wallabies coach, who backs his temperament.

Folau will link with Ioane in a potentially devastating combination down the flanks, providing the Wallabies can win enough ball and secure quick possession at the breakdown. Fine weather in Brisbane has increased hopes it will be a quick game, although some rain is forecast before Saturday.

The Wallabies are expecting huge pressure at the scrum, although the front row of Ben Alexander, Benn Robinson and Stephen Moore are likely to have more collective experience than the Lions.

Moore will also be hoping Mowen’s presence at the lineout will provide the clean ball the backs need, and their understanding will be critical.

Wallabies: Robinson, Moore, Alexander, Horwill (c), Douglas, Mowen, Hooper, Palu, Genia, O’Connor, Ioane, Lealiifano, Ashley-Cooper, Folau, Barnes. Reserves: S Faingaa, Slipper, Kepu, Simmons, Gill, Phipps, Beale, McCabe

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.