Folau To Debut Against Reds
by Brendan Bradford –
Israel Folau will make his Super Rugby debut on Saturday when he pulls on the 15 jersey against the Queensland Reds at Suncorp Stadium.
Alongside him, try-scoring speedster Tom Kingston earns a spot on the left wing with Wallaby Drew Mitchell completing the back three.
With three successful trial matches, three tries and six years’ experience in professional sport, Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has every confidence Folau will thrive in his first competitive rugby match.
“It’ll be a pressure cooker atmosphere, but he’s experienced that before so he’ll be ready for it,” said Cheika.
“A big part of going away from home is getting the fans against you and you’ve got to try and silence them by what you do on the field.”
Bernard Foley has recovered from an ankle injury that kept him out of the Tahs’ last trial against the Crusaders and will guide the side around from fly-half with Tom Carter and Adam Ashley-Cooper in the centres and Brendan McKibbin at halfback.
Up front, Jeremy Tilse impressed Cheika enough during the trials to earn his maiden Super Rugby start alongside Tatafu Polota-Nau and Sekope Kepu while test prop Benn Robinson starts on the bench.
“All the front rowers have made it very difficult for me to pick a starting team,” said Cheika.
“Since I’ve been here Jeremy has been working like crazy, he’s strong and fit and he’s hungry. We need guys competing against each other to get us hardened for when we go out into the enemy territory, like on Saturday.”
Southern Districts duo Sitaleki Timani and Kane Douglas start in the second row with Wycliff Palu at No.8 while openside flanker Michael Hooper makes his Waratahs debut.
The side will be led for the first time by new captain Dave Dennis who in an interesting twist, was given his Super Rugby debut for the Tahs in 2007 by Reds Director of Coaching, Ewen McKenzie.
“Ewen backed me in 2007 and gave me that first opportunity and now ‘Cheik’ has backed me this year in terms of the leadership,” said Dennis on Thursday.
It will also be Cheika’s first Super Rugby game in charge of the side and he’s savouring the opportunity to oppose his former teammate, McKenzie in what promises to be an exciting interstate grudge match.
“We know we’re going into the lion’s den for our first game but we’re looking forward to it. There’s a lot of self-belief in the team,” he said.
On the bench, Cheika has opted for a five-two forward-backs split, relying on halves Matt Lucas and Ben Volavola to cover the backline. If Lucas takes the field for his Waratahs debut, he will oppose older brother Ben – the Reds’ halfback.
Waratahs team to play Queensland Reds
Saturday, February 23, 2013 – Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane (7.40pm EST)
1. Jeremy Tilse 2. Tatafu Polota-Nau 3. Sekope Kepu 4. Sitaleki Timani 5. Kane Douglas 6. Dave Dennis (c) 7. Michael Hooper 8. Wycliff Palu 9. Brendan McKibbin 10. Bernard Foley 11. Tom Kingston 12. Tom Carter 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper 14. Drew Mitchell 15. Israel Folau.
16. John Ulugia 17. Benn Robinson 18. Paddy Ryan 19. Mitchell Chapman 20. Lopeti Timani 21. Matt Lucas 22. Ben Volavola.