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Israel Folau is a union player through and through, says French centre Wesley Fofana

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Wallabies fullback Israel Folau has made such a smooth transition from rugby league to union, it seems he has been playing the 15-a-side game all his life, French inside centre Wesley Fofana says.

Fofana, 26, known as "Le Guepard" (The Cheetah) in France because of his lightning speed, did not have to play for France against Folau last week in the first Test – when Les Bleus lost to the Wallabies 50-23 – to be convinced of the 25-year-old's skill. He saw how good Folau was after watching him on video beforehand. 

"Before playing against him, we had all watched a number of his games," Fofana said while preparing for Saturday's second Test against the Wallabies at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne.

"I knew straight away that he is a great player, especially for his age. He was exactly what we expected: a player who plays with his strengths – his pace, power and technique.

"I can't see anything in his game that shows he is from league. It is as if he has always been playing union.

"He knows how to fill the gaps. He knows where to attack and where to run, and when I watch league it's not the same."


Fofana, born in Paris but of Malian descent, believes Folau is unlike many past code converts, such as Lote Tuqiri. 

"I could see he has a league background," Fofana said of Tuqiri, who earned 67 Wallabies caps after switching from league to union.

Fofana, meanwhile, is excited about the midfield pairing of him and Toulon's Mathieu Bastareaud for Saturday, which will be his 26th Test.

Bastareaud, who has 23 Test caps, has been picked at outside centre for Gael Fickou, as one of 10 changes in the French run-on side.

Fofana says the 183-centimetre and 125-kilogram Bastareaud, who was selected after missing the first Test to recover from Toulon's victorious Heineken Cup and Top 14 campaigns, should add a lot of potency to the French attack.

"It will give extra strength, extra aggression and also there is a point of [his] freshness," Fofana said. 

"We have also known each other for a long time. We played together in under-16s. I understand his game and he understands my game."

Asked about the Wallabies centre combination of Matt Toomua (182 centimetres, 89 kilograms) at No.12 and Tevita Kuridrani (196 centimetres, 102 kilograms) at No. 13, Fofana said: "Toomua is very aggressive in defence, and an opportunist in attack. He'll take any chance he can to pass or run the ball.  

"Kuridrani has a lot of pace in attack and an ability to win the majority of his one-on-one duels … In defence he is different than Toomua in that he is less in control, but he is still really aggressive."

Fofana believes France can turn around last week's dismal showing. "We know we have no choice but to play a great match," he said.

But he admits he is at a loss to explain how France has a knack of following up a poor performance with a blinder.

"I don’t know if it is unfortunate or fortunate," he says, smiling.

"But it is something very French – that we need to go to the bottom to achieve something great. It’s the way we are."