RWC 2015 England vs Australia: Serial switcher Israel Folau set on decisive score

Israel Folau is a potent finisher who has scored 18 tries in 34 matches for Australia

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Stuart Lancaster and the English coaching staff are not the only individuals who believe Sam Burgess has the talent to prosper in rugby union. Burgess has an unlikely advocate in a code breaker who migrated across not one discipline but two, and who tonight represents as big a threat as any to English chances of remaining in this World Cup. 

Like Burgess, Israel Folau grew up in the 13-man code, representing Australia through the rugby league age groups and playing professionally for Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos. His first switch came in 2011 to Aussie Rules team Greater Western Sydney Giants. 

After just two seasons in a tank top he was on the move again, this time to the Super Rugby side NSW Waratahs. It took a full year for the Wallabies to risk him in an international fixture, chucking him in against the Lions in 2013. 

The Burgess experiment was rushed by comparison, but, according to Folau, it is one with which England should preserve. “I think Sam’s done a terrific job so far in the World Cup and we all know how good he is,” Folau said while picking through what he sees as the strengths of the English opposition .

“Defensively we’ll need to be on point because the England boys have a big, strong pack and can be dominant at the scrum, as we experienced at the end of last year. Their backs also provide a lot of firepower, with Brad Barritt, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson and Jonny May all capable of winning games on their own. Factor in big Sam Burgess coming off the bench and it’s a huge challenge.”

Unfortunately for England, Folau carries none of his deference and respect for the opposition on to the pitch. From his favoured position at full-back he is among the most potent finishers in world rugby, so good in fact that Japanese side Docomo Red Hurricanes will make him one of the highest paid players in the world next year.

Though he ended up in the losing side in his debut against the Lions, he made a huge impression with two tries. At the end of 2013 during the autumn internationals he equalled Lote Tuqiri’s record of 10 tries in a season with a score against Wales. In his 34 matches to date his tally stands at 18 tries. 

Denied the opportunity to augment his personal ledger in the 65-3 romp over Uruguay last Sunday, the odds favour him breaking his World Cup duck tonight. “The boys are ready, and getting our house in order has been the central focus,” he said. “England’s loss last week has put them under a fair bit of pressure, especially playing in their home country, but footy’s a strange game and you can never tell whether that’s a positive or negative.

“They could come out at Twickenham feeling sluggish and heavy under the weight of expectation, or they could storm out all guns blazing and take it right to us. We’re obviously preparing for the latter, and either way we’ll need to be at our very best to get a result.”

As his Twitter feed demonstrates, Folau has been a popular attraction around the capital this week, and not just among the Australian diaspora, as he m  ade the most of his team’s central London location. “There was a fair bit of banter between the Pommy and Wallaby fans.  The Aussies have been loud and proud over here, decked out in their green and gold and showing us a lot of love. Hopefully, we can put in a big performance this weekend and keep things going for them in a foreign territory.”