What does it mean to be “undroppable”? - Green and Gold Rugby

What does it mean to be “undroppable”?

What does it mean to be “undroppable”?

Okay, let’s skip over the gushing and gnashing of teeth that Wallabies fans seem to almost be enjoying.

Australian rugby is having a bad year.

Perhaps the best example of this is the NSW Waratahs. Despite boasting the most internationals in their squad, the Waratahs are arguably the worst side in the conference bar the Melbourne Rebels.

Feeling this pinch the most (and perhaps one of the reasons for it) is Israel Folau.

Almost every other fullback in the Australian conference has at least enjoyed stretches or at least examples of good form in 2017, but not Folau.

Dane Haylett-Petty and Karmichael Hunt have been the standouts, and even Jack Debreczeni started to hit his straps at 15 before being moved back to five eighth.


Photo by Keith McInnes

Karmichael Hunt – has been at the centre of everything for the Reds. (Photo by Keith McInnes)

To the delight of many Aussies, IF started the year at outside centre. However, Daryl Gibsons’ plan to get his star Wallaby more time on the ball did not work, in large part to deputy five eighth Bryce Hegartys’ ordinary play.

Izzy was eventually returned to fullback, but statistically, he is down across the board in all major stat categories, such as tries (3), runs per game (7.9), metres per game (70), tackle busts (24), line breaks (5) and try assists (2).

Suffering through the worst of his five years in rugby union, there have even been calls for him to be dropped as the Wallabies’ number 15, an almost unthinkable scenario a few seasons back.

Fortunately for Folau, head coach Michael Chieka is a big fan of the three-code man, and is undyingly loyal to his favourite players. Most expect the former State of Origin star to retain his spot at the back for the Australia in the June tests.

Generally, the three prevailing schools of thought surrounding Folau are as follows:

  1. As the incumbent Australian fullback, Folau can only lose his spot through poor play at international level. Whilst Super Rugby form can win other players squad callups, it cannot lose an incumbent their spot.
  2. Folaus’ current form is just too bad to justify selecting him at fullback for the upcoming tests. Perhaps on the wing, or off the bench, but there are currently better options in the number 15 jersey.
  3. Folaus’ talent level is good enough for him to be in the side regardless. He is undroppable.
Israel Folau gets around Ben Smith

Israel Folau gets around Ben Smith

Whilst the first two are relatively self-explanatory, point (c) is an interesting one. Is a player ever “undroppable”? How does one acquire the “undroppable” tag? Is Israel Folau undroppable?

IF has certainly been fantastic in a gold jersey in a good deal of his 51 international caps. However, last year, as we begun to see the ugly side of the Wallabies, we began to see the ugly side of Izzy also.

Errors, dropped balls, unsolicited offloads and a general decline in the elasticity of his running punctuated his play last year, but he was still brilliant under the high ball and was good for one or two loping runs through the oppositions’ line.

Perhaps despite better judgment, he was just good enough to hold off Dane Haylett-Petty from grabbing his spot at fullback. After all, he’s still Israel Folau.

But this year, we’re starting to see more of the same, and at Super Rugby level. He wasn’t as electric as people expected at 13, and he hasn’t exactly returned to his old self since returning to the back of the field.

Now there is a legitimate case for Folau to not feature in the June tests. His previous Wallaby exploits become less relevant. In a team picked on form, he has not been one of the better players, not just at fullback, but in the back three.


Dane Haylett-Petty a better option than Izzy?

But is he just too good an athlete, too talented a rugby player to not be in the side? Grand Slam winning Wallabies coach turned shock jock Alan Jones certainly does not think so.

“Israel is very overrated. There’s so much hype around (him). He is just another person. No one ever talked about Mark Ella like that,” Jones said.

But current well respected Wallabies skills coach Mick Byrne believes quite contrary.

“Alan’s been around a long time, but I think Israel’s a bloody great player,” Byrne said, “(he’s) chomping at the bit to have the influence in any game he can. It’s very difficult when you’re an outside back to enforce yourself on the game.”

“We’d love to see more of Izzy but when he gest his chances like he did last week, he takes that line break and we get a try.”

Byrne’s right. IF may certainly not be in the blistering form we love him for, but he is undeniably one of a handful of players in Australia who are a chance to score a try with every touch of the ball.

Izzy is electric. He’s all those buzz words rugby people hate. “Exciting”, “thrilling”, “exhilarating”, “x factor”.

This is not enough to win a Wallabies spot, but what needs to be weighed up is whether or not Folaus’ past exploits in the jersey trump what he is doing in Super Rugby now.

Right now, I say yes, they do. But one slip up and I’m scratching out Folaus’ name and replacing it with Dane Haylett-Pettys’.

  • Rebels3

    I don’t think Folau has been that bad, he just hasn’t been playing to the level that we know he is capable of. His strengths are in his finishing ability and knack of diffusing kicks in the air. Personally i think he is a potential world class winger and therefore should be moved to the wing for the wallabies, a position we desperately need some quality in. I constantly hear that the wallabies have so much depth at wing, but is that really the case? Looking at the players available we have a lot of 7/10 quality players but no one that is capable of being an 8-9/10 on a consistent basis.

    The discussion also needs to be had with regards to our fullback options, a position we do have depth in. Our 2nd and 3rd choice full back in better than our 1 and 2nd choice wingers, in both ability and consistency. DHP and Hunt are both players capable of playing to a very high level a higher level than our wingers are.

    Folau’s weakness at fullback tho is his kicking game, something which is a strength of DHP. Therefore id be selecting DHP over Folau at 15, his better distributing and counter attacking game also would be better utilised here for the Wallabies.

    Overall i’d go

    11. Folau – ability to defuse high balls, amazing ability to beat defenders 1 on 1. Foley needs to also incorperate high league style bombs out to his wing to much effect.

    14. Speight – Form Aus winger, extra speed that Wallabies lack and powerful runner in traffic.

    15. DHP – Counter attacking game, distribution and more importantly ability to kick.

    23. Hunt – Can cover most positions. If DHP is injured for June i’d be playing him at 15.

    • Pedro

      I’ve been thinking that Hodge would be a great bench utility. Big, fast, big kicking game both from hand and tee.

      If we played 3 bench backs hunt and Hodge would give us some good depth and versatility.

      • Rebels3

        I wouldn’t mind Hunt and Hodge being our bench backs. But would depend if Beale is at 12. Case in point would be if Foley took a knock, Beale to 10 and Hunt could fill in at 12. And in the case of absolute emergency Foley and Beale were injured during a game, Hunt to 10 (lets remember he played a European Cup final at 10) to do a satisfactory job.

        • Fan

          Didn’t Skrela play at 10?

        • Pedro

          I would start the Kerevidrani in the centres which means you need fast guys that can play inside on the bench, I suppose Beale could be one of those.

        • Graeme

          I think Genia and Beale are our two most important internationals, and I’m pretty sure cheiks will be doing whatever he can to get them back for the bleds.

      • Graeme

        I think Hodge is the type of player you either start and build a strategy around, like White did for the Brumbies with Mogg’s boot, or don’t include at all.

        • Pedro

          Yeah? He’s young though. I think he could be anything. I’d keep him in the squad minimum.

    • Fan

      Yeah put him back on the wing.

    • Graeme

      I’d go with the exact same back 3 and reserve. Folau’s lack of a boot and poor positioning in defense means he is better utilised on the wing.

      • Graeme

        The only change might be that if Tomane is still in the same form as he was when he left Oz, he probably has the wing position in front of Speight.

  • Fan

    “The Waratahs are arguably the worst side in the conference bar the Melbourne Rebels.”

    You’d need to be very argumentative to make that argument.

    • Harbo

      I would watch the Reds, Brumbies and Force over those two any day given what our teams have been dishing out this year.

      • Fan

        As bad as the Waratahs have been they have still performed better than the Reds, Force and Rebels. There is no objective way that you can argue otherwise.

        • Pete

          Really? Only have beaten the force and rebels. Lost to the kings and didn’t deserve to win against the Reds, only a massively lopsided penalty count saved them… Can’t blame you with the NSW PR campaign in full swing…

        • Fan

          2nd in the Aussie conference and beat the Reds and Rebels away from home and the Force at home.

          You can dress it up any way you want but those are facts.

      • Harbo

        Didn’t you hear on the podcast mate? The Reds were robbed! If your argument for the Tahs being good is that they are second in our amazing Aussie conference, then you are probably also wear blue tinted glasses similar to Cheika’s!

        • Fan

          That is not the discussion, Harbo. The contention is with the argument that “Waratahs are arguably the worst side in the conference bar the Melbourne Rebels.”

          The only reasonable measure to make such a judgement is results against the teams in the conference and standings in the conference.

          Results against teams in the conference and conference standings are the only measure for this.

          Whether the Waratahs are “good” (a relative term) is not the discussion. The Waratahs are performing drastically below what is expected of them, so I would suggest that they are not “good”

        • Harbo

          I hear what you are saying loud and clear, none of us are “good” and if we go off standings Tahs aren’t the worst for sure. I was merely saying they would probably be the last Aussie team I would watch any given weekend considering their form and general play.

      • Seaweed

        Same Harbo. I’m a Waratahs fan, and I’ll be there Saturday night, but I’d rather watch the u11’s basketball. Come to think of it, there might be some on somewhere …..

  • phil peake

    I really appreciate this article but you forgot to mention that he doesn’t read the attack well in defence, so doesn’t defend well, doesn’t cover defend well, doesn’t kick effectively, and his test form has been poor since 2015. Undroppable was pretty much what Cheika said during the World Cup even when Folau was injured as well, which was very dangerous for the TEAM.

  • Kiap

    Australian Rugby dropped a heap of cash on him, reportedly a tick under $2m a year. Part of the reason for being undroppable.

    They should have Izzy checked for a “thumb injury”. Sit him out from the Tahs for a month and freshen up for the Fiji and Italy clashes.

    Then he competes with Karmichael at 15, given DHP won’t be playing the June tests. Hopefully Israel comes good, but after that we will know if he is still the true incumbent.

  • SuckerForRed

    I also wonder if the oposition teams have worked him out a bit. He is good under the high ball so they don’t kick the big high bombs deep. They know he hits the ground running so have a couple of defenders there, not competing for the ball but ready to tackle him as soon as him feet hit the ground.

    • Mr Wobbly

      That was part of the appeal of having Izzy at full back in the first place, it made teams change the way they wanted to play. When others were playing at 15 teams would be happy to bomb it deep all night. As you say, they have generally sussed that out now and found a work-around. The benefit isn’t worth as much as it was back in 2015.

  • Jason

    Honestly, if IF is soo good, if IF can score with every touch of the ball, if IF is half the player people think him to be, then why IS he playing soo poorly.
    I would remind people it wasn’t so long ago he was in horrible form during the end of year tour, and before that he was in poor form for the Rugby Championship, and before that he didn’t do much in the England series.
    I think with IF we have been a victim of the hype ‘oh it’s the rest of the team not laying the groundwork’, ‘he just needs to get more involved and more touches’. I hate to break it to those people if IF isn’t performing at Super Rugby level there is no way he’ll do well at the international level, and why risk the IF when there are alternatives that are in far better form. Karmichael Hunt, Dane Haylett-Petty and yes even Jack Debreczeni and Aidan Toua are all in better form than IF. IF Izzy isn’t the best fullback the day before the game, eligible to play for the Wallabies then Izzy shouldn’t be selected to play for Australia. Plain and simple, Karmichael Hunt and Dane Haylett-Petty are lower risk selections, because you know you won’t get anything less than what they are doing in Super Rugby, at the moment the worst you’ll get from Izzy is what he’s currently given the Waratahs and I hate to be the bearer of bad news but that isn’t very much at all.

    • Fan

      You’re slating him for not being at an unrealistically high level that no-one has ever claimed that he is.

      He’s a good player, not necessarily in good form but has placed most of the season in a position which he is not cut out for (which he was the cheerleader for).

    • Seaweed

      I hear you Jason. Time for some bench time.

  • Adrian

    He’s a class act, and he’ll come good,… perhaps on the wing.

    He’s not playing badly, just not playing brilliantly.

    He stopped Australia being blitzed by high balls (which we routinely dropped), and will continue to do so

    • Michael Hassall

      Good point. Before izzy our back three seemed to drop more balls than they caught.

  • Chinese Dave

    The danger with this sort of thinking is twofold. Firstly, we can’t pick people on potential, we need results, not athleticism. Secondly, imagine what it does to the other players, knowing that however well they play, they will not be picked, it’s not fair, it’s demotivating, and it paints other controversial selections in the same brush of favouritism that might not exist in the other cases.

    As a Tahs fan, I say this with full throat, if Izzy is picked over DHP or KH for the June tests, it will be a travesty. In fact, if we don’t use this potentially softer opposition to get our best players off to a good start, it will also be terrible coaching.

    One final point, a call against this whole Izzy on the wing business. We need to stop thinking like a third grade club team when it comes to the Wallabies. If player X doesn’t play in position Y regularly for their SR team, then they don’t play there for the Wallabies. Pick the best actual wing for the wing. Picking IF for the wing to let DHP or KH play is just as bad as picking him at 15, it just screws a different player.

    • Fan

      I’d agree that you shouldn’t pick a player in a position he doesn’t play in just to fit him in, but Folau has played well on the wing for Australia and his move to 15 had lots of reasons not limited to (but including a view that he is better there). Barnes going, Waratahs selection, Beale’s implosion etc. I would easily have him in our best 3 back-row positions.

      Look at Farrell for England for example, plays a different position than at club level. And for the “2nd best team in the world” (personally think that’s Ireland but those are the rankings). It’s not unheard of. Folau is a good winger

    • Graeme

      I disagree with this. Izzy has already played on the wing, and moving him to the back there allows us to take advantage of his skills, breaking the line and off-loading, while having a fullback, who although not a great tackler, is positionally aware, and has a hoof on him.

  • Straith

    If Chieka found a place in the squad for Kurtley over previous years, then he can find a spot of Hunt. The lines that hunt runs and the agility/speed he does them with, is very similar to Beale.
    But the best thing about Hunt is that he seems to be very mentally stable in the sense that if his team is playing poorly he manages to concentrate on his own game and continues to do the things he does best. It’s almost as if he is still in his first few games of union and is playing rugby the way he knows how to, and not how the coaches have tried to teach him (almost where i feel folau’s slump has come from) . When the reds are going backwards you can trust hunt to step up and lead the charge.

    I remember seeing him do this filthy line break in the trial game this season at ballymore where off the back of a scrum he stepped the defender before quade had even begun to throw the pass to hunt. most backs just run one straight direct line off the ball, where as this is the first time i ever saw a back change direction. here i found a video of it. https://youtu.be/k–y6QPdPHI?t=45

    • Fan

      Beale is going to be one of the first names on the teamsheet. Remains to be seen if Hunt is up to Test rugby

      • Kiwi rugby lover

        I hope so for when you play us

        • Fan

          So do I. Beale is one of the few outstanding players Australia has.

  • Gottsy

    One thing I dislike about Aus rugby is how quick we are to write our players off. I hate to think how many have been dropped or cast off only to head overseas because they’ve just been thrown on the trash heap prematurely. I really hope it doesn’t happen to Izzy, at least get him into camp and see what he can do, assuming he’s healthy.
    Agree with the calls to get him on the wing too, with hunt or dhp at 15 (izzy 11, dhp 14 hunt 15 maybe?)

    • Fan

      I think that any of the coaches will look beyond the birds eye view of his form not being great.

      Last year he was carrying a restrictive injury which impacted his form and he has spent most of this year playing in a position he is not cut out for.

      Physically he is still the same guy, he is a good athlete with a good attitude, in excellent shape and relatively young. I wouldn’t be too worried.

      If we have better options then they should be in ahead of him. I don’t believe we do. However, the Scotland games may be an opportunity to have a look.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      DHP is your best 15. Hunt has positional defensive shortfalls that he doesn’t. I’d actually consider Hunt a good option for 13

      • Gottsy

        While I somewhat agree with you, the other thing that pisses me off is constantly playing people out of position. We’ve already done it with DHP, and he’s done quite well on the wing, I would much prefer to give Hunt a go at fullback or nothing (for now), as I believe he really does bring something extra in terms of leadership etc at 15 that he might lose if he has to adapt to a new position

  • Fan

    Folau is a good player and a good athlete. He is bashed because he’s not an all-round perfect player, but who is?

    Form is temporary but over a long period of time he is worth his place in a team. I think that playing through an injury last year and then playing most of this year in a position he is not suited to (even though he pushed for it himself) has resulted in a dip in form but these are mitigating circumstances and I wouldn’t come to any long term conclusions.

    When it is not related to declining physicality or an unprofessional attitude then I think this needs to be taken into account.

    Every player is droppable. He would be in the team on merit, though.

    • phil peake

      what merit? Plus his injury was 2015

      • Fan

        The merit is that he is good enough and has proven this over a long period of time.

        Folau had ankle surgery at the end of the 2015 and only started training on it just before the Super Rugby season started last year and was clearly impacted by it.

        Let’s not rewrite history so that we can lynch the G&G Villain of the Week as usual.

        • phil peake

          Good enough? We want to pick a Wallabies team that’s better than good enough! We want the guys that are excelling.

          You said he played through injury but the injury was end of 2015 like you said, so 2016 season and 2017 season so far his form has been underwhelming. That’s you rewriting history, not me.

          In any case, if all players are droppable, why hasn’t he been?

        • Fan

          Why are you deliberately understanding what I meant by good enough? Why do you bother logging on here to pick such arguments?

  • Nutta

    What short memories we have. He is still our best under the high ball, he is still one of the best line breakers we have, he always attracts multiple defenders (so space for others who work hard enough to support) and then beats the first tackler pretty much always. And possibly most telling, if you talk with any opponent he is still the one they are wary of the most.

    • Kiwi rugby lover

      Mate I agree he is,awesome and a dangerous opponent. I always thought the move to 13 was wrong as it didnt play to his strengths you mention. Fuck all high kicks come to a center and a 13 doesn’t get the space to play in that a wing or 15 gets. It also exposed Hus defensive weaknesses which isn’t surprising as its technically the hardest position in the field to defend. I still think he would make a better winger than a 15 but both are better than center for him.

      • Nutta

        I agree he is not a centre as it doesn’t play to his strengths. Spot on. And the use of Hus with an added capital for noun-like emphasis is a positivist and courageous reflection of your homelands linguistic identity. Ballsy stuff that. Makes me feel better for being told in uni assignments that my writing is “jingoistic to the point of overtly ocker.” I’m not mocking. I’m admiring.

        • Kiwi rugby lover

          I must admit I had to read it twice to get it

    • Hoss

      Nutta – All fair assumptions my learned friend, but why don’t we (Tahs / Wallabies) benefit more from those skills – i understand their are a million other factors to that question. Too me he looks tired and jaded, wouldnt hurt for 3-4 weeks out of the June series, regain his mojo and come back hard for those with the Ugg Boot Fetishes in August.

      • Nutta

        I agree he looks tired. But in terms of his week-in and week-out performance there is only so much a guy at Full Back can do. There are 22 other numbered jerseys that have to do their job so he can do his. Could he use a break? Possibly. Will he get one given the price-tag is so high? I doubt it. Where am I going with my self questioning? Fk only knows.

    • phil peake

      I haven’t seen him beat the first tackler regularly in a long time.

  • Dorothy Ball

    The amazing thing to me about Izzy is that he must be truly spectacular at the things he does well. By that I mean much has been made of his so-called inadequacies in defence and kicking, yet he was a superstar at rugby league, where it’s tough to hide in defence, and was poached to play Aussie Rules, where he must surely have got some kicking tuition. I’m mystified that, while he’s so talented, he hasn’t been able to correct those deficiencies. I’m not having a pop at anyone, Izzy included, just musing.

  • MungBean

    Folau’s skills, in general, have been on a steady decline since he joined the code. His kicking has declined to the point that it is now somewhere between atrocious and non-existent. How was this allowed to happen?

    I cannot help but think that Folau is on a bit of a jolly in rugby, that his natural skills, plus the knowledge that he is undroppable (because without the ARU topup the Tahs cannot afford him, hence he will be picked), are enough to keep him in poll position at 15.

  • phil peake

    Look at these comments! There is no other player that we make this many excuses for!! If we just treated him the same way as all the others players I’m sure he would have improved but he’s stagnated for that exact reason I think.

  • John Tynan

    What you are all neglecting is, if Folau goes to a wing, what does he do when Higgers is out there seagulling?

  • Who?

    There’s two issues here. Folau, and ‘Undroppable’. I’ll address both…
    Firstly, Folau. I’ve been saying since the very beginning of 2016 that he needs to go back to the right wing. Our best back at the RWC – and our best fullback – wasn’t Folau. It was Beale. Folau is regularly out of position on defence, and doesn’t have the pace to make up for relatively poorer positioning. He doesn’t have a great kicking game. He can kick, but AFL taught him to find the man. As such, playing him on the right wing with a roving commission was the solution to him becoming predictable in attack (because he could rove, as Digby and Lote did before him), to his failings in positioning in defence, and to his confidence, given he debuted for the Wallabies at 14, and played an awful lot of League on the right wing.
    The concept of playing Folau at 13 was only ever half baked. The concept was that he’d get more ball (in a position where he’s really more required to play wide – he was injecting himself in the 13 channel in the RWC, starving Kuridrani of space and possession, which then saw poor old TK slated for not doing his job – when Folau could’ve injected himself off the 10 or 12, as well as in the 13 channel), and he could drop back to cover the high ball. But that’s not what a 13 does. 13 is the toughest defensive position to play, and having him defend out of position… There’s no logic to it. Unless you think you select your pilferer at 8, and your tackler at 7. But even Cheika didn’t want Folau at 13.
    Folau’s best position is right wing, with a commission to rove. Anything else is asking him to step outside his natural game. He can do it, but he won’t be as effective, and we should be playing people in the positions that suit what they naturally bring to the game. That’s the art of intelligent selection (an art that has been regularly absent over much of the past decade).
    Now, undroppable… Folau is hardly alone there. This in spite of having a coach who constantly talks up the requirement for internal, squad-based competition, and a refusal to allow guys to feel comfortable or ‘incumbent’. There’s a good number who can do whatever they want and not get dumped, in the same way there’s guys who can have decent games and not get dumped. In the first category, I’d say we have the obvious names who come up every time. Guys whose names will immediately start howls of “state bias” from everyone. Yes, Hooper. Foley (jaded, tired and out of form last year, but couldn’t be left out of the XV). Folau. Beale. He’s less certain this year, but Phipps. Some would add (injuries permitting) Slipper. And since he took the captaincy, Moore. In the second category – play a good game and get dumped – you’ve had players like Simmons, Kuridrani (only two players to tackle above 90% in Bledisloe 1 last year and they both got canned), Toomua, Leali’ifano.
    There’s reasons why these guys are undroppable. There’s good arguments that Hooper’s undroppable because the entire Grey defensive system is built around his speed in covering the 10 channel. That concept – defining an entire system around a special talent – leaves you very vulnerable to injury. We’re lucky Hooper hasn’t copped a bad one, that he is the Energizer bunny. Foley has had fitness in his favour, except last year, where he clearly needed a break, then Quade was dropped for him to move back to 10 without any real external justification (there was no significant change in form for either of them). Beale hasn’t had many bad games under Cheika. Folau… Well illustrated in the article, and I’ve given my thoughts above. Squeaky’s the captain, and he’s also very good at ball distribution in Larkham’s attack system (his hands have developed a lot over the past couple of years, he throws a lot of out the back balls to the second line at present), that’s about the only logic there.
    So, for mine, we clearly have guys who Cheika thinks are undroppable. Is that a bad thing…….?
    I’d argue it’s a balance. It’s not good if you’re sticking all your eggs in one basket, like designing your game around a unique player’s unique strengths. Like Hooper’s defence.
    But that doesn’t mean it’s bad to have players who are cornerstones to your team. Far from it! Stability is important.
    The real question is whether the right people are currently undroppable, whether it’s to their benefit or not, as well as the benefit of the team. For mine, that’s not always been a strong suit for Cheika – he picks his mates, people he likes, and they don’t always pay off for him. He’s not a strategist, he’s a motivator, and whilst every coaching team needs a motivator, you can’t have a motivator alone calling the shots on who’s going to implement the strategy, and whether or not that strategy is actually a winning strategy.

  • Bernie Chan

    Cheika has stated that Izzy is pretty much a ‘lock’ for the Test #15 jersey….because he is good under the high ball. But so are DHP and Hunt. And both DHP and Hunt kick better and tackle better. Hunt has also been a better ‘ball player’.


Sports journalist based in Sydney, covering everything from Rugby to NFL and anything in between. Catch me at Concord Oval every Saturday managing the media for the mighty Pirates

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