Eddie Jones got a close-up look at the man who will give him the most problems at the World Cup. And it wasn’t former Wallaby and now rugby villain Israel Folau.
Israel Folau showed glimpses of his brilliance in the schoolyard-fun style exhibition match between the Barbarians and World XV, but he is not the former NRL star the Wallabies need to worry about at the World Cup.
Semi Radradra, playing outside centre for the World VX, wreaked havoc and will be the most dangerous man Australia face in their second pool match on September 17.
Many eyes were on Folau during the match at Twickenham – and he was roundly booed with every touch by a section of the crowd holding pro-LGBTQI flags.
As it stands, Folau wouldn’t be a walk-up start for the Wallabies even if he was still available. Andrew Kellaway, Tom Wright and Jordan Petaia would be preferred options, though Folau still has enough talent to warrant a spot in the squad.
When Folau does run out for Tonga at this year’s World Cup, some Wallabies fans may wonder ‘what if?’. But Australian coach Eddie Jones, who coached the Barbarians to a 48-42 win in London, will be more concerned about the Fijian threat.
While Folau, 34, has pledged his allegiance to Tonga after taking a multimillion dollar settlement from Rugby Australia following his 2019 sacking for homophobic social media posts, he is not the player now that he was in his prime.
The brilliant outside back still possesses speed, footwork and a nose for the tryline – he touched down chasing a corner kick and made a line break for the World XV – the fact is he is plying his trade in second division Japanese rugby, and no one can be sure he stacks up against top-line defences anymore.
Radradra, meanwhile, shows that he will again be a player of the tournament candidate at the World Cup on form.
His routine linebreaks, one-handed off-loads to set up tries, and power were showcased for the World XV, while fellow Fijian centre Setareki Tamanivalu was equally dangerous for the Barbarians, scoring two tries including the matchwinner.
With Australia pooled with Fiji and the basket-case Wales side, the match against the Pacific Islanders could be the decisive one that determines if the Wallabies can top group C and gain a favourable draw into the quarters and semis.
When 30-year-old Radradra (pronounced Run-drun-dra) left the NRL in 2017, most pundits expected him to return within three years.
Instead, he’s transformed into one of the most explosive rugby players on the planet and has duly been rewarded with multimillion dollar contracts with Bordeaux in France, and Bristol in England.
Folau was of similar stature in Australia before his social media firestorm. He’ll be a value to Tonga, but they are unlikely to proceed further than the pool stages with Ireland, South Africa and Scotland in their group.
Coach Jones must work out which centre combination can overcome Radradra and either Tamanivalu or Waisea Nayacalevu.
Samu Kerevi, playing for the Barbarians, hobbled off in the 19th minute with a hamstring injury. That is a major concern, even if Jones believes it is a minor tweak, because there are only four Rugby Championship/Bledisloe Tests and a warm-up against France before the World Cup kicks off on September 8.
Kerevi is an automatic starter, but if he struggles to repair his hamstring, Jones will need to consider a combination of Hunter Paisami, Len Ikitau, Lalakai Foketi, Izaia Perese and Petaia.
Souring the weekend was news that Waratahs rookie Max Jorgensen, a Wallabies training squad member, is now in doubt for the World Cup after suffering a medial cruciate ligament injury last weekend in the Super Rugby defeat to the Crusaders.
Most pleasing for Jones would have been the composed return of Quade Cooper, who steered the Barbarians to victory having overcome an Achilles injury. Twelve years after leading the Wallabies’ World Cup campaign in New Zealand, Cooper is the most likely candidate to wear the No.10 jersey at this year’s campaign.
It’s a remarkable comeback journey for Cooper. Folau is trying to manufacture his own, but it will never be in a gold jersey and seems destined for a more subdued finale.
#Israel #Folau #booed #Semi #Radradra #stands #Wallabies #World #Cup #bid