Folau set for midfield switch

Date published: March 10 2015

Waratahs full-back Israel Folau could find himself lining up in the Super Rugby champions' number 13 jersey sooner than expected.

Wallabies and Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has hinted previously that Folau could make the positional switch but didn't expect a permanent move to take place during a World Cup year.

But with first choice outside centre Adam Ashley-Cooper sidelined indefinitely with a mysterious knee injury, Folau spent a large portion of the Waratahs' recent clash against the Reds in the position.

And although Matt Carraro started in the position at the weekend, and will wear the number 13 jersey again in an unchanged starting XV when the Waratahs face the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday, Folau's midfield apprencticeship is set to continue.

Waratahs assistant coach Daryl Gibson revealed that playing Folau in midfield was part of the Sydneysiders' plan to "best utilise everybody's strengths and skills" in the back-line.

That means Folau won't be the only one switching positions but also players like Ashley-Cooper, Carraro, speedsters Rob Horne and Peter Betham and utility back Kurtley Beale.

"So while that can be complicated as they're always swapping positions, we believe it's the best way that we can be most effective," Gibson told AAP.

"We realise that the game is constantly shifting, evolving. Teams are doing different things so you need to be across all that, but also at the front of it in terms of you setting the trends as opposed to reacting to it.

"At the moment, we're really trying to use everybody's skills to the maximum."

Gibson insisted that veteran Wallaby Ashley-Cooper remains the Waratahs' first-choice outside centre but admitted that now is the right time to introduce Folau to the complexities of the midfield role.

"We're taking baby steps and getting the best out of two situations," added Gibson.

"We like to have Israel back ready for counter and we like to have him up front for attack… I think he's got a real future playing what we call up front, in the front line.

"The opportunity with Adam out is that we can just gradually keep exposing him to those centre-type positions and give him that experience there.

"Given time, that will become his natural position.

"How long (until then)? That's up to how well he adapts and he accelerates his own progress.

"He could quite comfortably slot there now."