Picking code-hopper Israel Folau to face the British and Irish Lions in the three-Test series starting next month would devalue the Wallabies shirt, World Cup winning coach Jake White said yesterday.
Former rugby league international Folau joined the New South Wales Waratahs this season after a two-year stint in Australian rules football and will play only his 10th competitive match in the 15-man code against the Southern Kings today.
The 24-year-old fullback has scored five tries in his nine matches so far and Australia coach Robbie Deans said on Wednesday that he could become “an absolute legend” of the game if he agreed to extend his stay in the sport of rugby union.
Former Springboks coach White said he understood the commercial imperatives of retaining such a high profile talent, but thought it would be at the risk of devaluing the Wallabies shirt.
“The concern is if you’ve only played 10 games and become a Wallaby, for me it’s a bit of an indictment on the jumper,” White told Sky Sports Radio.
“I understand he’s a great catch, and they want to try and attract him marketing-wise to keep him in rugby football. They did the same with Mat Rogers, Wendall Sailor and Lote Tuqiri, and I understand, there’s obviously competition for codes here, but he’s got to want to play for the Wallabies and be a part of the Wallabies for many, many years if you want to give him a Wallaby jumper,” he said. “I don’t think it would be fair after 10 or 12 games if he ends up playing for Australia. As I said it’s a bit of an indictment for Australia.”
White, who has led the ACT Brumbies to the top of the Super XV standings this year, was equally lukewarm about the chances of his own uncapped, but in-form fullback Jesse Mogg taking part in the series.
“I have no doubt that he’s going to play for Australia,” White said.
“I just don’t want him to rush in too quickly. It’s not about how you play for Australia, but how many times you play for Australia. That’s the challenge. If we compare him to the likes of Joe Roff or Chris Latham ... he’s got to play 50, 60 or 70 times for Australia and not just be a one-hit wonder,” he said.
Deans is expected to lose his job when his contract is up at the end of the year if Australia lose the series against the Lions, with White and Queensland Reds coach Ewen McKenzie the favorites to succeed him.