Give Folau Horne's starting spot, say Tahs greats
Shaping up nicely ... Israel Folau. Photo: Getty Images
NSW should sacrifice Test centre Rob Horne to make room for Israel Folau in the Waratahs starting line-up this season, according to Wallabies greats.
World Cup-winning Australian coach Bob Dwyer and Wallabies and Waratahs legend Mark Ella agreed Horne would be the obvious casualty should Folau continue to impress coach Michael Cheika in the Waratahs' final two trial matches against the Blues and Crusaders over the next 10 days.
The former league and AFL convert scored two tries in his debut in the Waratahs jersey during the province's friendly against the Rebels in Hobart at the weekend.
Ella said Folau was yet to be tested against a quality opposition but Horne, with 14 Test caps to his name, had failed to live up to his potential over the past couple of years and was under pressure. ''He's been under-performing over the last two to three years so I'd have no hesitation putting Israel in front of him,'' Ella said. ''He's had enormous opportunities with the Waratahs and the Wallabies but would I pick [Horne] before Folau? No way. Folau's definitely got more potential than Horne at this stage.''
Horne, 23, overcame a string of injuries in 2011 to turn in one of his most consistent seasons of Super Rugby with the Waratahs last year. He carried the form into the June internationals, starting at outside centre against Wales in all three Test matches, before straining his hamstring in a Shute Shield match for Southern Districts, ending his Wallabies season prematurely.
By all accounts this year should be Horne's season but the arrival of Folau has thrown into doubt all previous conclusions about the formation of the Waratahs' back line.
Cheika has an embarrassment of talent on his books and too few positions; Folau is fitting into a back line that boasts the likes of established Wallabies Adam Ashley-Cooper, Drew Mitchell, Lachie Turner, Berrick Barnes and Horne, as well as young guns Bernard Foley and Tom Kingston.
Dwyer, who coached the Waratahs and oversaw Mat Rogers's transition to rugby from league 11 years ago, said he saw the dilemma as a choice between Horne and Folau.
If Folau was left out of the starting XV, Ashley-Cooper could start at fullback and Horne at outside centre. Ashley-Cooper, an accomplished Test player at wing, outside centre and fullback, would usurp Horne if Folau was started at the back. Foley and Barnes could start at five-eighth and inside centre respectively, while Turner and Kingston could be left to battle for a wing spot alongside Mitchell.
''For me to make rock solid predictions I'd have to be a lot closer to the action but from a distance the pressure is on Rob Horne to cement a spot,'' Dwyer said. ''He hasn't really played his best football for the last couple of years and he really has to show he deserves a starting spot. The easiest team I can find is with Rob Horne on the bench.''
Dwyer, too, reserved his judgment on Folau's prospects with the Waratahs, despite observing pleasing attributes.
''You've really got to form the opinion after [Folau's] done that in the highest quality of game, not in a trial match against the Rebels who, with the greatest respect, are not the best team in the competition,'' he said. ''You've got to also see how he goes when the other team has the ball and when he's under pressure at the back. He's got strength and height which is useful for offloading - as we've seen Sonny Bill Williams do so well - and he has agility, we've seen him spinning out of those tackles.''
Ella said Folau could also work at outside centre if Cheika wanted a safer option early on. ''You've just got to put him in an attacking position, get him involved in the game and see how he develops from there,'' Ella said. ''NSW has had a lot of these [talented] players in the past and they haven't delivered. If Cheika can get them firing he'll be blessed with riches. We all want to see them playing attacking football and that will dictate who Cheika picks [to start].''
Foley appears set to take over the No.10 jersey, a transition Dwyer endorsed - if Barnes was kept at No.12. ''[Foley]'s the sort of player who, if he understands the position and gets lots of second touches, then he could be extremely dangerous with his acceleration and outright pace,'' Dwyer said. ''I'd be trying to make sure I could use him [Foley] that way, he'd be more dangerous than any other player in that role. Berrick Barnes might well be your first-choice goal kicker, in which case he has to start. That puts further pressure on Horne, because Ashley-Cooper is an absolute certainty to be starting.''