Wallabies’ coach Michael Cheika is doing all he can to put a cheerful spin on Israel Folau’s chances of starting in the World Cup final against the All Blacks at Twickenham.
Fullback Folau appeared to be in major discomfort when he hobbled off the field with an ankle injury during the Australians’ 29-15 win over Argentina in their semifinal, meaning the triple-code sports star could struggle to be fit for the final on Sunday morning (NZT).
Cheika won’t rush any decision so early in the week, but as the week grows older he will need to make some difficult decisions if Folau is only rated a 50/50 chance of starting.
There is little doubt a fully-fit Folau – one of the best at leaping for contestable kicks or using his long stride to split defences -would be an automatic selection.
The problem, however, is that he looks far from the complete package: his injury is affecting his form and confidence, and he made little impact in the match against the Pumas.
“He pulled up pretty good,” Cheika said about Folau from his team’s training base in Teddington. “He was always going to tire a bit toward the end because of his injury.”
Although Cheika acknowledged Folau was hurt when he was replaced by Kurtley Beale, he said he always planned to make a substitution.
“He (Folau) actually got caught under a tackle. We were taking him off because we felt 60 (minutes) was about his duration with that ankle injury, just the fatigue of it. The way the game was going – they were maneuvering us around the back field a bit.
“We didn’t want him limping around and as it worked out it was the right time (to take him off) because he caught under that tackle.”
It would be of no surprise if Cheika was to delay naming his team for the final, something he did prior to the sudden-death games against the Pumas and Scotland.
Folau was ruled out of the Aussies’ controversial win over Scotland in the quarterfinal because of his ankle problem. Key back rower David Pocock was also scratched because of a sore calf, returning to make an impact in the semi.
Folau’s return was expected to add some power to his side’s attack but he struggled to feature in the semi at Twickenham.
Experienced midfield back Matt Giteau also departed mid-way through the second spell because of a groin injury.
Cheika is hopeful he will be fit to start alongside Tevita Kuridrani against the departing New Zealand pairing of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.
“He is feeling a lot better than he did yesterday evening. In the next day or so we will get a better opinion of how everyone feels.”
Prop Scott Sio, who didn’t face the Pumas because of an elbow injury, is likely to feature against the All Blacks.
Given the way Argentina put their scrum through the wringer at Twickenham, Cheika will place some urgency on getting Sio back.
The All Blacks, who have declared loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett has recovered from the groin strain that ruled him out of the semi against the Springboks, will have lurched forward in their chairs as they watched the Pumas dismantle an Australian scrum that had improved dramatically during the tournament.
“I would say he is going to be on the training paddock this week,” Cheika said, in reference to Sio. “We will just see how he goes but he has been running already and has got movement back in his elbow. We will just see how that applies to some of his specialities like scrummaging and mauling and go from there.”
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