The SportingJournal

Izzy the key to the Waratah’s finals hopes?

The turning point for the Waratahs season has come from an unlikely source.

Five years ago it was unimaginable that Israel Folau would play for the Waratahs, let alone the Wallabies.

But now the former Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos star/code-convert is perhaps New South Wales most important player, and a near certainty to be picked in the Wallabies squad to take on the British and Irish Lions in June.

Languishing near the bottom of the Super 15’s table, the Waratah’s win over the Chiefs on Friday night at Allianz Stadium has sparked hope at a possible play-offs appearance, with Folau integral to their chances.

Folau seemed a fish out of water in his brief stint in the AFL but his performance on Friday night showed he is rugby natural and a huge coup for the Waratahs.

The reigning champion Chiefs came to Sydney as favourites, but the Waratahs showed a new energy, and a more complete attacking game.

The first half showed so much promise, it was if long suffering fans let out a collective “Finally” as they raced to a 25-20 come from behind win. 

When Folau leaped spectacularly to take a well positioned kick from Bernard Foley, Waratahs, fans could see hope – and he had number 15 on his back.

It’s not as if the Waratahs haven’t been entertaining this season – their emphasis on attack has generated some impressive passing phases – however, the added ingredient of Folau and an ominous kicking game could keep a door ajar after it seemed firmly shut early in the season.

The success of Folau has been unprecedented. His adjustment from a significantly different code has seldom been attempted, perhaps out of trepidation, yet Folou has approached his time at the Waratahs admirably.

But,  despite the impressive performance on Friday, the Waratahs have an uphill battle to make the play-offs.

Saturday night saw the Brumbies and the Reds, the two best Australian conferences teams, play out a high quality draw in Brisbane.

Although statistically the result could work in the Waratahs favour, the on-field strength of the sides cannot be denied and their round 14 clash with the Brumbies at ANZ stadium is now critical.

Now that the Waratahs have realised the prominent passing game can only get them so far, Folau is potentially their most important player and is likely to be used more in kicking situations.

Although rugby shares greater similarities to rugby league, Folau’s natural game, rather than the AFL, there was no shortage of pundits who believed that the convert would be an arduous work in progress.

For Folau to be considered the key to the Waratah’s finals hopes is an achievement that should be applauded.

He has obvious room for improvement when it comes to the game’s technicalities, however his brilliant try on Friday was born out of instinct an undeniably elite athleticism that is essential to be a quality rugby winger.

To go further this season, the Waratah’s will need more than Folau to fire.

However as their season progresses it is becoming obvious that without him they’ll be back to the disappointment that preceded him.

Fans burning memberships and jumping off the bandwagon in disdain is a part of Waratah’s history, a blight on the history of one of the most successful super rugby franchises.

Folau was never sold as the saviour to New South Wales, but more success to the Waratah’s could see him portrayed as the man who brought them back.

 

Cover image credit: NSW Waratahs/Facebook

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