Israel Folau climbs high to claim a catch against Ireland. Picture: Getty Images
Israel Folau climbs high to claim a catch against Ireland. Picture: Getty Images

Up there Izzy: How AFL helped Folau fly

MOST people consider Israel Folau's AFL years to be wasted but the Wallabies star has revealed how Aussie rules tuition in his early days at the Melbourne Storm is to thank for his freakish aerial ability.

And it's those incredible leap-and-catch skills that have added a new threat to the Wallabies game that was sorely missing against England at AAMI Park two years ago, according to Folau.

The Wallabies ramped up preparation for the second Test against Ireland in Melbourne by doing an intense, double field session under the shadow of the AAMI Park bubble.

Unlike most years, however, it wasn't on Goschs Paddock - where the Rebels and Storm train - but instead on Collingwood's training field.

The Pies have a bye this weekend and so gave the Wallabies permission to take up residence in their state-of-the-art Holden Centre, and coach Nathan Buckley was seen watching on at one point.

The Wallabies players snapped shots at goal with their Gilberts but the Sherrin connection - within sight of the Storm's home ground - was all the more pertinent for Folau.

The Wallabies fullback has been in spectacular form in recent weeks, particularly taking contestable, attacking kicks. And the Australian side used the exit strategy superbly from their quarter in the win against Ireland in Brisbane.

A young Israel Folau training with Melbourne Storm at Princes Park.
A young Israel Folau training with Melbourne Storm at Princes Park.

"It is probably a part of our game, as a team, we haven't had in the past. It is something now we have brought in and it is really good. It brings that balance to us," Folau said.

"We have some guys who can really play with ball in hand and that is really the only way we have played in the past. But now we have that kicking game added on, it kind of keeps the opposition guessing."

Folau played for the GWS Giants in 2011 and 2012, and only one of his 13 games was at the MCG.

His AFL stint wasn't viewed as a success but he said the aerial talents that earlier saw him dominate in rugby league, and subsequently in rugby, were due to working with Carlton coaches when he was a teenager at the Storm.

"Down here, you are surrounded by it," Folau said.

"When I was down here with the Storm, we used to do a lot of work with Carlton, kicking and catching stuff. You learn all those skill sets from there. They teach you catching overhead and off the chest and all that.

Israel Folau and the Wallabies trained at the Holden Centre. Picture: Getty Images
Israel Folau and the Wallabies trained at the Holden Centre. Picture: Getty Images

"In high school, I didn't know I had that skill set. I didn't know until I came and really sharpened those skills up. I followed guys like Billy Slater who was good under the high ball. You learn off those guys but also getting taught by those AFL clubs, you get better at those skills."

Folau said the Storm were one of the first teams to practice high catching using AFL back pads, and to use the fifth-tackle highball tactic in games.

"Now you see it across all teams and it has just become the norm," he said.

"But we have guys in the Wallabies team now who can use those skill sets, who guys can kick to a certain point, it makes it much easier to catch them."

The Wallabies have the chance to wrap up the series against Ireland this weekend with a win. In 2016, they lost the series in Melbourne against England by running themselves into oblivion against Eddie Jones' defensive strategies.

"That's something we learned the most," Folau said.

"They hardly played, they put the ball behind us and kicked a lot and made us play a lot. We basically ran everything and we weren't smart around the kicking area of our game.

"The coaches have looked in the last six months to how we can improve that, and we have guys who are good under the high ball. We want to use that as a strength. Especially coming out of our half."



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