The man All Blacks fear more than Folau
THE All Blacks are unimpressed that Israel Folau won't be playing for Australia this weekend - because they believe the Wallabies could be more dangerous without him.
Although the banished Wallaby fullback scored eight tries in his 17 Tests against New Zealand, Folau has only been on the winning side twice because the All Blacks worked out how to contain him.
But according to New Zealand's two-time World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett, Folau's replacement at fullback Kurtley Beale poses a much bigger threat because he's far less predictable.
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And the statistics support Barrett's view. While Australia has won less than 15 per cent of their matches against the All Blacks when Folau plays, the winning percentage climbs to 25 per cent when Beale is on the field.
"We're all aware of Israel Folau's capabilities and the strength that he has from a physical point of view," Barrett said.
"Kurtley's a very exciting player and he's so unpredictable.
"I think they certainty don't lose anything by having Kurtley there and if anything it's probably more threatening."
The All Blacks are also worried about the surprise return of James O'Connor to partner Samu Kerevi in the Australian midfield because they hadn't prepared for that.
While New Zealand were convinced that David Pocock was going to return from injury this week but guessed wrong, Wallaby coach Michael Cheika also caught the visitors out by selecting O'Connor at outside centre for the first time.
"That was a bit of a surprise, one for the Aussies there," All Blacks' coach Steve Hansen said.
"Going to be interesting, isn't he, because he's a jack in the box so he'll need to be looked after and playing outside a big ball carrier, I'm sure he'll be looking to run off him so he'll be interesting."
With outside centre being one of the most difficult and important positions to defend, the biggest risk with O'Connor is how he will contain New Zealand's outside backs so Hansen expects he could switch places with Reece Hodge when the All Blacks have possession.
"They wouldn't be putting him there if they didn't think he could (tackle) and they've got Hodgy on the wing so they may turn around and put Hodge to centre defensively," Hansen said.
"They've got plenty of different options they can use but they wouldn't put him there if they didn't think could defend."
Although he's one of Australia' most versatile backs, O'Connor has never started at outside centre but Cheika said has no doubts he'll measure up and he loves the idea that the All Blacks won't be able to do a lot of homework on him before the match.
"I think James will bring something a little bit different that we haven't seen," Cheika said.
"So definitely our opponents won't have seen it either. He seems to have handled it pretty well in training. I am looking forward to seeing him out there.
"There will be certain set piece requirements that he'll need to fill there and then after that it's just be there and play footy, and that's what he's good at, he's good at playing footy."
Kurtley Beale, Marika Koroibete, James O'Connor, Samu Kerevi, Reece Hodge, Christian Lealiifano, Nic White, Isi Naisarani, Michael Hooper (c), Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Allan Alaalatoa, Tolu Latu, Scott Sio.
Reserves: Folau Fainga'a, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Adam Coleman, Luke Jones, Will Genia, Matt Toomua, Tom Banks.