‘Ready to play’ Israel Folau trains with the Waratahs on Tuesday Photo: Tamara DeanWaratahs attack coach Daryl Gibson has put a sobering voice to what the numbers have been indicating all season.
The Waratahs, despite their best efforts to wean themselves off the Israel Folau drug, appear to be completely dependent on him.
“Without Israel we’re probably not as threatening – not in the sense of creating but certainly in finishing,” Gibson said. “That’s been evidenced by the fact we haven’t scored many tries in the last few weeks.”
By many tries, Gibson means three. One against the Sharks, one against the Stormers and one against the Force, all games Folau sat out injured.
For a team that looked to have the most exciting attack in Super Rugby in the opening few rounds and had the numbers (16 tries in four games) to prove it, that is a sobering correction.
Western Force coach Michael Foley demurred from making the point after his side’s three tries-to-one victory in Perth last weekend.
But Gibson was in a straight talking mood, saying the tough defensive styles of the South African and, in the case of the Force, South African-style sides, was a contributing factor.
“It’s probably a little bit of both [Folau and good defence],” he said. “We’re certainly creating a lot of opportunities – against the Force we created plenty – it’s just against the Force we didn’t finish.
“We’ve talked a lot this week about our line break conversion, and the opportunities we do create that we need to be finishing. With Israel back in the line-up you know, given five opportunities he will probably finish two or three of those.”
Playmakers Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley are no slouches in attack. Nor are the likes of Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne or Cam Crawford.
Beale, Foley and halfback Nick Phipps stepped up in Cape Town to lead the Waratahs to just the second win in South Africa by an Australian or New Zealand side this season.
But abrasive, defensive-minded teams such as the Brumbies, Sharks and Force have been able to overwhelm the Waratahs too easily.
Prop Benn Robinson summed up the boost his return gives to the side before their must-win clash with the Bulls.
“When you have a world-class player like Izzy coming into the side it does give you confidence, it would be silly to say it doesn’t,” Robinson said.
“There’s always good players who stand up but for me personally when I know Izzy is out there it makes a big difference.”
The Waratahs will have their work cut out for them against the Bulls, even with the so-called Indian Ocean hoodoo taken into account.
The Bulls have the capacity to exploit the home side’s inconsistency at set piece and will be aided by veteran second-rower Victor Matfield, who came out of retirement to re-join the Pretoria side this year.
“They’ve had the form lineout for many years now and with Victor back he controls that lineout really well and we know it’s going to be a big part of the game,” Robinson said.
“They get a lot of their forward ball off that and we just need to stand up there. Our set piece has been improving the last two or three weeks, we’ve had a stronger focus [there] and it’s paid off for us.”
The game also marks a welcome return to Allianz Stadium for the Waratahs, who currently sit in fifth place in the competition.
Adam Ashley-Cooper said the importance of a win at home this week could not be overstated.
“The statistics show that you’ve got to win at home to make the finals,” Ashley-Cooper said. “Off the back of a disappointing loss last week, this game is more important than ever.
“And obviously the next three weeks coming up, leading into our bye, is a really critical block in our season.”