March 24, 2019 / 2:08 AM / a month ago

Record-matching 'NASA man' Folau relaunches Waratahs season

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Canterbury Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has suggested Israel Folau should work for space agency NASA after the New South Wales Waratahs fullback’s aerial skills helped end his team’s record Super Rugby winning streak.

Folau’s ability to leap above opponents played a big part in a first-half try for Cam Clark on Saturday and led directly to a late score for the Wallaby himself as the Waratahs handed the Super Rugby champions a first defeat in 20 matches.

The Folau try that sealed the 20-12 victory at the Sydney Cricket Ground was his 59th in Super Rugby since he moved to rugby union in 2013, matching All Blacks winger Doug Howlett’s competition record.

“He’s pretty good in the air,” said Robertson. “He should be working for NASA.”

Folau should be good in air given his background as a rugby league winger, where the crossfield kick is a standard fifth-tackle option, and in Australian Rules, where much of the game is played with the ball above the players’ heads.

He needs the ammunition, however, and he certainly benefited from Bernard Foley’s best game of the season so far, the Wallabies flyhalf illustrating that the boot can be the best tactic to counter the modern trend towards rush defences.

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said they needed to play to Folau’s strengths more.

“Like the champion player he is, when you ask him to pull out something special, he does,” he said.

“It’s probably the first time that we’ve actually played that tactic. We haven’t really been kicking him enough ball, nor been good enough in putting it in the right areas for him.

“The best way to get through these guys is through the air and the best way to do that is to go to your go-to man.”

Returning to fullback after a brief stint on the wing, a position from which he has never scored a try for the Waratahs, Folau is looking forward to more opportunities to show off his aerial prowess.

“Of my 59 tries, I’ve probably been lucky to get maybe 10 of them off kicks,” he said.

“So it’s something that I’d like to see a lot more because I’m obviously confident in my ability to try and get up and contest for the balls.”

Saturday’s victory was only the Waratahs’ second against New Zealand opposition in 13 matches and took them to the top of the Australian conference with a 3-2 record.

Last year’s semi-finalists know they need to keep winning if they want to stay there, however — starting on Friday in Newcastle against Japan’s Sunwolves, who were this week served with a notice to quit Super Rugby after next season.

Gibson said a win over the Crusaders, where he enjoyed a long career as a player and coach, proved the Waratahs could compete with any side in Super Rugby.

“They are the benchmark team, been that for the last two years,” he added.

“Gives our boys the confidence that we can compete with the best. And we grow from there.”

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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