By Ben Horne
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has slammed suggestions cross-code superstar Israel Folau is too raw to be playing fullback, claiming wing is in fact the more difficult position to adjust to.
Folau struggled on debut in the Waratahs season-opening Super Rugby loss to Queensland, and playing the pressure position of fullback, was frequently found out by the Reds' attack.
But asked whether it would be better for Folau's development to be shifted to the wing to face Melbourne on Friday, Cheika hit back at the criticism and said the 23-year-old shifts between the two positions anyway.
"I don't know why there seems to be a perception that the wing is easier to play than fullback. In my way of thinking ... the wing is actually positionally much more difficult to play," he said.
"I've said it probably about 50 times now. But we play with an interchangeable back three. So he sometimes plays on the wing, sometimes at fullback."
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says it was the right decision for NSW to throw their debutant into the deep end against Queensland and defended Cheika's decision to back Folau in the No.15 shirt.
New Zealander Deans says Cheika had every right to have confidence in his big-name recruit and predicted Folau would be better for the experience.
"It was a baptism of fire obviously. It was always going to be, but he's a class footballer, and he'll be back don't worry about that," said Deans.
"It's easy from the grandstand. But he based his decision on a lot of background, from what he'd witnessed on the training ground and seen in pre-season fixtures."
The Australian Rugby Union on Monday started the 100-day countdown to the British and Irish Lions tour which kicks off on June 5.
By the time the first Test against the Wallabies rolls around on June 22, Folau would have had nearly a full season of Super Rugby under his belt.
Despite his shaky start, Deans said it was too early to make a call on whether Folau a Test debut against the Lions would be too much to ask of the former league and AFL star.
Recovering Wallabies halfback Will Genia said Folau was more than capable of stepping up to Test standards inside four months.
Genia, who hopes to be back from his knee reconstruction for the Reds in round 5-6, said Folau had a lot to learn but was capable of adjusting quickly.
"I'm a massive fan of his. I hope he learns from it and becomes a better player and I think if he does he can have a massive future in rugby," he said.