Folau to make Super Rugby Waratahs return

Darren Walton
Israel Folau will make his long-awaited comeback from injury for the NSW Waratahs

Israel Folau returns in a revamped NSW Waratahs line-up desperate for redemption in Saturday night's Super Rugby clash with the Blues at Brookvale Oval.

Folau will line up at fullback in his first outing since suffering a hamstring injury five weeks ago against the Brumbies - and first since sparking a storm of controversy over his online comments about homosexuality.

The inclusion of the Wallabies' superstar is among five changes to the starting side, who had entered the record books as the first NSW outfit held scoreless in 23 seasons of Super Rugby.

Folau replaces the benched Bryce Hegarty, with winger Alex Newsome dropped to make way for Cam Clark and new outside centre Lalakai Foketi, relegating Curtis Rona to a reserves role.

In the forwards, Will Miller will start in the back row instead of Jed Holloway, with Ned Hanigan returning to lock in favour of Tom Staniforth.

Coach Daryl Gibson vowed to "mix and match" his line-ups during a season-defining four-game stretch against New Zealand opposition.

"We're entering a really competitive phase of our year and I really want to share that around and give guys opportunities to contribute," Gibson said on Thursday.

"I've kept largely the same team (in 2018). We've been very fortunate with injuries this season and I don't want guys to be disheartened at not getting a run.

"I'm making a real strong commitment to them that things are going to be different over the next few weeks."

The Waratahs are looking to end Australian teams' dire run of 36-straight Super Rugby defeats to Kiwi rivals since May, 2016.

With just two wins from nine starts, the Blues are running last in the New Zealand conference but Gibson won't be lulled into "rubbish" talk about the Aucklanders being there for the taking.

"Everyone's got their challenges. The Blues are going through theirs," he said.

"I look at us. We're coming off a belting - 29-nil (against the Lions). We're still working out how that happened, learning the lessons from that - and still seething from it.

"We want to make sure we respond well."

Folau proved a revelation on the wing before being injured and Gibson said the code-hopper's return to fullback didn't mean an end to the use of his deadly aerial skills.

"That's still an opportunity for us. We're trying to look for ways to evolve in that aerial tactic in particular," he said.

"So nothing changes for us. We're looking for those contested balls, for him to claim them (going) forward and to really get involved in the game."

WARATAHS:

Israel Folau, Cam Clark, Lalakai Foketi, Kurtley Beale, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Bernard Foley, Jake Gordon, Michael Wells, Michael Hooper (capt), Will Miller, Rob Simmons, Ned Hanigan, Sekope Kepu, Damien Fitzpatrick, Tom Robertson.

Res: Hugh Roach, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Paddy Ryan, Tom Staniforth, Jed Holloway, Nick Phipps, Curtis Rona, Bryce Hegarty.