Folau set to tackle Bledisloe Cup
The Bledisloe Cup remains unchecked on Israel Folau’s to-do list, as the Wallabies look to break the All Blacks 11-year dominance.PT0M0S 620 349
It is the rarest case of second-year syndrome and Israel Folau says he is a willing sufferer if it helps the Wallabies pull off a drought-breaking Bledisloe Cup win this year.
Folau finished the season as Super Rugby's joint-top try-scorer and bagged a double for the Wallabies against France less than two months ago.
By anyone's standards, it was another golden year for the dual international.
Numbers game: Tries have dried up for Israel Folau. Photo: Getty Images
But amid whispers that he had not set games alight towards the end of the Waratahs' title-winning season, Folau said he was happy to be a team player if it meant his teams won big games.
"For most people they probably see those games as being quiet," he said.
"In that Brumbies [semi-final] game we didn't see too much ball, but looking back at the final against the Crusaders, watching the game over again, I was pretty happy with how I contributed to the game.
"The only thing that stands out for most people is that I'm not scoring tries, but I'm really happy with how things are going."
And so he should be, after twice attracting defenders outside Adam Ashley-Cooper and presenting the classy finisher with a gap to bolt through and score twice in the final.
"For me, watching that, you know the defence is thinking about me during those plays," Folau said.
"You know you create opportunities for other guys around you, so that's the evidence there that I'm doing my job for the team.
"It's not always getting the ball in hand and scoring tries – that's what most people see when something like that goes missing. But that's clear evidence for me that I'm doing my job for the team, when I'm creating opportuniteis for the guys around me.
"I'm very excited about that."
Dig past the numbers and a tale of two seasons emerges.
Folau scored two-thirds of his tries in the first four games of the Waratahs' season and none at all in their two-game finals campaign.
At international level, he scored a double against the British and Irish Lions in his Test debut before Warren Gatland found ways to keep the Wallabies then-winger comparatively quiet for the rest of the series.
It took Folau two warm-ups against the All Blacks and a hat-trick in the Wallabies' watershed Rosario victory against Argentina before he scored his first five-pointer against New Zealand, in Dunedin last October.
He averaged a try a Test against France this year, before heading back to the Waratahs to continue the march towards the club's maiden Super Rugby title.
And if the tries dried up towards the end of the Super Rugby season, the effort did not. He topped the regular season for offloads and finished second on clean breaks and run metres, playing a pivotal role in the Waratahs' march to the minor premiership and top ranking overall on tries, clean breaks, carries, run metres, tackle busts and offloads.
If 2013 was the year of Folau's arrival, 2014 could be the year of his evolution.
"I think my game knowledge is a lot better, just from the experience of playing games at Test level," he said.
"That's something you only get through playing and I'm more playing on a free-flowing energy now, where I'm just feeling my way through the games, not really getting nervous but going in there really excited and enjoying the game."
The Wallabies have not beaten the All Blacks since a 25-20 win in Brisbane in 2011, the same year the Reds beat the Crusaders in the Super Rugby final.
But before the parallels are drawn and victory foretold, the man who lives for the big games wants the Wallabies to focus on themselves.
"It's disappointing, the results, but it's done and dusted now where we're excited about what's ahead of us," Folau said.
"The group is pretty confident and after a year together, especially with Link [coach Ewen McKenzie], we know what type of style we want to play and hopefully we will bring that on Saturday night."