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Israel Folau backs "brilliant" Sam Burgess to shine in rugby union

Published 09/10/2015

Australia full-back and former rugby league star Israel Folau has given his backing to England's Sam Burgess
Australia full-back and former rugby league star Israel Folau has given his backing to England's Sam Burgess

Australia's star rugby union convert Israel Folau has backed Sam Burgess as "a great athlete" who can flourish in the 15-a-side code.

Burgess was a controversial selection for England's World Cup squad, being picked by head coach Stuart Lancaster less than a year after switching from rugby league, where he enjoyed a success-laden career highlighted by guiding South Sydney Rabbitohs to the Australian NRL title 12 months ago.

The Yorkshireman, though, failed to cut it in England's midfield, and he has received considerable criticism since the host nation crashed out of World Cup contention last Saturday through a 33-13 defeat against Australia.

Wallabies full-back Folau played for Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos, winning eight Australia league caps, before forging a stunningly-successful union career.

"It (converting to union) was pretty challenging in my first year of playing Super Rugby, but I feel like I managed to pick up the game," Folau said.

"In terms of Sam, I think he's a brilliant player and his progress, from my point of view, has been going good.

"I don't listen to any other comments from the outside. I just think Sam is a great athlete who can do really well in the union game, I hope he does. I wish him all the best going forward and going into the future."

Folau will line up against Wales in Saturday's Pool A decider at Twickenham, despite a limited week's preparation due to an ankle problem.

"It wasn't too serious," he added.

"I had a couple of days off during the week just to make sure that everything was alright, and I had a bit of a run around yesterday with the guys and it felt pretty good, so I am very confident going into the game.

"It's not 100 per cent. For me, I am confident, otherwise I wouldn't be strapping on the boots and going out there tomorrow.

"I am sure every player throughout the tournament gets niggling injuries, and you have got to try to overcome those the best you can. I am definitely going into the game tomorrow, and that is the last thing on my mind."

Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika, meanwhile, is braced for a punishing encounter with Wales after both teams booked last-eight places from the tournament's so-called pool of death, with England left trailing in their wake.

Cheika said: "We are still right in the middle of what is pretty much a war zone, our group.

"The goal has been to keep trying to win to get out of our pool, and then go on and keep doing it from there.

"Saturday will, I feel, be the most brutal game we are going to encounter in the pool.

"It has been physical so far, but my knowledge of tournament play tells me that the further on it goes, the more brutal it gets because the stakes get higher and everyone wants to win more."

Wales have not beaten Australia since 2008, losing 10 Tests on the bounce, while their World Cup record against the Wallabies shows just one win from five.

But Cheika, whose squad trained at Twickenham on Friday with Australian rock band AC/DC's Thunderstruck blaring out on the loudspeakers, has dismissed the fixture's recent history, adding: "It is irrelevant.

"World Cups are different. It is not another Test match. It is one of the few times when you get into tournament play where it is part of a bigger competition.

"It is all about what happens when the two teams front up on Saturday afternoon.

"He (Wales head coach Warren Gatland) is a brilliant coach. With the Lions' (2013) victory in Australia as well, and what he has done with Welsh rugby over a long period of time, it shows the class that he has got."

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