The Folau saga united the Waratahs. Picture: AAP
The Folau saga united the Waratahs. Picture: AAP

Folau saga could be blessing and curse for Tahs

The sense of unity that Israel Folau unintentionally gave to the Waratahs with his divisive social media posts has been used to full effect but now they've got to find another way to win.

With their backs to the wall after a week off field distractions, the Waratahs dug themselves out of a 13-point halftime deficit to beat the Rebels on Saturday night by sticking together and adopting a simple game plan.

They can thank Folau for bringing them closer together but any extra motivation he gave them has already been spent so they need to forget all about him and just start playing better if every week they want to make a run at the Super Rugby title.

"He's a special player, no doubt about it, he's talented, he's a freak and he's been a big part of this team so when you lose any player like that there's a hole," NSW five-eighth Bernard Foley said.

"But what the side did this week, they filled it pretty quickly in terms of how we went about business, we didn't try and replicate or find another Israel we went about our business.

"For the guys to really come together and get a performance like that, especially after what had happened and that start, guys can easily fall away and throw their hands up but they didn't, they stuck at it and that's the most satisfying result."

None of that is new ground for the Waratahs. Even when Folau was in the side, they have shown they can raise their game when they're facing extreme adversity, rebounding from an error-strewn loss to the Brumbies to beat the Crusaders a week later.

But what keeps driving their supporters mad is that every time they look like they've turned the corner, they follow it up with a horror show, most glaringly with their defeat to the bottom-placed Sunwolves.

 

The Waratahs won their first game without Israel Folau. Picture: Getty
The Waratahs won their first game without Israel Folau. Picture: Getty

 

"Hopefully this is a little light bulb moment that we go, 'that's what we need to take in terms of direction,'" Waratahs skipper Michael Hooper said. "We need to turn that into some momentum."

Perhaps they've finally worked it out, and again they can probably thank Folau.

Without the competition's all-time leading tryscorer, the Waratahs have realised they need to play a more structured game, kicking for territory and building points through penalties rather than the previous bravado approach of always searching for tries.

It worked against the Rebels and while it's not pretty, Foley admitted it is effective.

 

Match-winner Bernard Foley rallies his troops. Picture: Getty
Match-winner Bernard Foley rallies his troops. Picture: Getty

 

"We want to be doing the flashy stuff but we'll take ugly wins as well," he said.

"They're not really ugly because they're so satisfying especially when we sit in the change room and be so content, just have that quiet moment with each other.

"That's the stuff you play for, the stuff you can't replicate outside the team environment and that's the stuff we've got to chase."