By Tom Decent (Sydney Morning Herald)
Wallabies star Israel Folau admits he is sick and tired of losing the Bledisloe Cup year after year but believes foundations built late last year have put Australia in a strong position to strike the first blow in Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener in Sydney.
Folau has been through five Bledisloe series defeats since making his debut in 2013 and is over watching New Zealand’s dominance that stretches back to 2003 in rugby’s most famous rivalry.
“It’s been a pretty tough time when it comes to this time of year,” Folau said. “It’s something as players you really get sick of being on the losing end of things … it’s not rocket science that you definitely want to win it.”
Words mean nothing come kick-off on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium but constantly being beaten by the Kiwis is not something that sits well with the Australians.
Jubilation on the faces of Wallabies players after their tense 23-18 victory over the All Blacks in October was a telling reminder of just how much it meant to them, even if the third and final fixture was a dead rubber.
The All Blacks haven’t forgotten that evening at Suncorp Stadium, in particular their coach Steve Hansen. He might be living in fantasy land by saying the Wallabies are favourites for this all-important first match but Michael Cheika’s men did show a big improvement in Brisbane compared to the horrendous rugby they dished up in Sydney this time last year.
“Off the back of last year, I thought we built a really good foundation within our team internally,” Folau said. “We came so close there in the second game and we managed to get the win in the third one … but I think that was just a good taste of the potential that the team can fulfil.
“I feel the guys can take a lot of learnings out of that and go into this week really confident that we can put our best foot forward.”
After speculation Folau might move away from the No.15 jersey he has made his own, he all but confirmed on Tuesday he would stay at fullback.
Cheika will officially name his Wallabies team on Thursday but players are usually told on the Tuesday of a Test week whether or not they will be in the starting XV.
“I’ve been training at fullback … I haven’t been training anywhere else,” Folau said. “Whatever decisions that Cheik makes, it’s best for the team, but I don’t see myself playing any other position other than 15.”
Folau was pressed on a Fairfax Media column written last week by Wallabies great Matt Burke that said the 29-year-old was not yet a “great player” and had plenty of aspects of his game to work on.
Coming from arguably Australian rugby’s greatest fullback, one would expect Burke’s comments to rile Folau.
He certainly wasn’t letting on if they did before training on Tuesday, saying Burke was entitled to his opinion.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that if he believes that,” Folau said. “From my point of view I’m always looking to get a lot better as a player and I never want to get comfortable. It’s no hard feelings towards anyone who says what they feel. It’s all part and parcel of what comes with it.
“It’s something I’ve kind of got used to over the last couple of years. It definitely doesn’t affect me in any kind of way.”
Speaking of not being affected by things, Folau has made it clear he won’t change his approach to aerial contests after being suspended by World Rugby for a dangerous challenge with Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony during the June series.
“I believe my technique is fair play,” Folau said. “I’ll attack the ball at every opportunity I get to try and win possession for the team. That mindset for myself won’t change.”