Brisbane (Australia) (AFP) – Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said Israel Folau’s aerial supremacy could pose a problem as the much-changed Six Nations champions open their three-Test tour against Australia in Brisbane on Saturday.
The Irish are masters at probing for weaknesses through their pinpoint kicking, but in fullback Folau the Wallabies have arguably the best player under the high ball in international rugby.
Schmidt has left his first-choice fly-half Johnny Sexton on the reserves bench and instead has preferred to give his understudy Joey Carbery a rare international start in Brisbane.
“We have seen enough of Israel Folau, a number of our lads have played against him a few times,” Schmidt said on Friday.
“And it’s funny, it’s one of the things that people perceive we are good at but I don’t think there is anyone in world rugby that is as good Israel Folau in the air.
“How do you combat it? I think you’ve just got to go up and do the best you can.”
A stand-out performance would be timely for Folau, who has come under fire for airing his views that gay people are destined for hell.
Schmidt defended his decision to start Carbery ahead of Sexton for the first of three internationals in Australia, where the Irish haven’t won since 1979.
“Some of those guys have had some reasonably tough weeks and it was an opportunity, really,” Schmidt said.
“We decided that it (bringing in Carbery) was an opportunity that would probably be more difficult to engineer later in the tour. It was trying to get a balance.”
Schmidt has made made six changes to the team that won the Grand Slam at Twickenham in March, with 32-year-old Sexton one of a number of frontline Leinster players who are confined to the bench after successful recent European and PRO14 campaigns.
“Johnny (Sexton) runs a really solid game. People are deferential to Johnny because he has been in the seat for a long time,” Schmidt said, looking ahead to next year’s World Cup in Japan.
“But if he has been in the seat for a long time and no one else gets to sit in it, then we just leave ourselves a little bit exposed if he’s not in the seat.”
Schmidt has surrounded Carbery with experienced backs including Robbie Henshaw and Bundee in the centres, Keith Earls on the wing and Rob Kearney at fullback.
With Sexton on the bench, Peter O’Mahony captains the side.