Waratahs' hope for aerial game
Flying high: Israel Folau training at his new club the Waratahs on Thursday. Photo: Getty Images
ALMOST every time he had a break during his first rugby training session, Israel Folau would either bounce the football or kick it for himself, but it is another AFL skill the Waratahs plan to utilise next season.
''The aerial game in union is not one that is widely exploited and obviously we have got a guy who can catch the ball above his head better than anyone in our game so we'd be foolish not to use that as an attacking weapon,'' Waratahs assistant coach Daryl Gibson said.
The former All Blacks centre was part of the coaching set-up in Christchurch when Sonny Bill Williams played for the Crusaders and he predicted Folau could have a similar impact on the code.
Israel Folau's first training run with Waratahs
Israel Folau in his first training session with the Waratahs. Photo: Anthony Johnson
''Sonny revolutionised our game through offloading and I think Israel has got the potential to do that in the air,'' Gibson said. ''He is a hell of an athlete but I think what he brings to our game is that aerial ability.
''It is a skill in league that is very commonly used - they get into the 22-metre area and put in a kick - but in our game that doesn't happen so much so we need to engineer positions to really utilise that.
''At the Waratahs we are looking for a point of difference and that could be our point of difference.''
Folau's first training run with the Waratahs after spurning a return to the NRL with Parramatta to sign a one-year Super Rugby deal on Tuesday attracted a large media turnout at Moore Park and he looked sharp and relaxed during the 90-minute ball-work session. ''It was great, it felt great to have a run around with the boys and get the footy in the hand,'' Folau told Channel Seven.
Besides his habit of bouncing the ball and the way he occasionally held it, Folau did not look out of place at training and if anyone had walked up without knowing his background they probably would have picked him as the most athletic player in the squad.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika said Folau had obviously kept himself in good condition during the month his career was in limbo after gaining a release from the remaining two years of his $1.5 million per season AFL deal with Greater Western Sydney.
Cheika expects Folau will keep training through the Christmas break and has no concerns about his needing to bulk back up to his former 103-kilogram playing weight in the NRL.
''If he plays in the back three in rugby he is going to do more running than he would if he was playing on the wing or full-back in league because of the off-the-ball stuff so he will find what he is comfortable with,'' Cheika said.
''All in all, I thought he looked pretty good. He got a few good touches and he knew how to hold his depth to back his natural athletic ability and get around the ball and he didn't look too bad around the ruck area either for the first try.''