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Wallabies battle

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

SYDNEY - Robbie Deans has a lot of numbers to crunch before the first Test against the Lions in June, but the Wallabies coach will learn plenty about his key personnel this weekend.

With early-season cobwebs hopefully now out of the way for the local players, there will be nowhere to hide in round four as the best from the Australian Conference go head-to-head in Super Rugby.

On Friday night, Melbourne host Queensland, pitting good mates Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper against each other at five-eighth.

Both candidates have some significant points to prove to Deans if they're to wear the No.10 for Australia against the British and Irish Lions.

Beale must show he can fire despite the burden of a shoulder injury, and Cooper needs to rediscover his form of 2011 if he's to be a chance of regaining the coach's trust.

On Saturday, Deans will look on in interest as Israel Folau heads to Canberra anxious to take another stride towards an unlikely Wallabies debut by making a statement against the red-hot Brumbies.

The Waratahs' 31-26 win over the Rebels on Friday night shapes as something of a breakthrough moment for both NSW and their star recruit Folau.

"We're obviously headed down to the No.1 team in the conference next week and we've got to make sure we've got a better grasp around (our game) before we go down there, otherwise they might give us a touch-up," said coach Michael Cheika.

Folau looked shaky at fullback in the round one loss to the Reds, but when shifted to the wing halfway through the Rebels match, the NRL and AFL convert suddenly looked in his element.

A player with Folau's size and freakish skill can't be ignored by Deans, but it's essential he has time to feel comfortable in one position at Super Rugby level if he's to be considered for a meteoric Test debut.

The early signs suggest wing is that spot.

Despite his damaging work on the flank on Friday, setting up two tries, Folau is set to at least start at fullback against the Brumbies - meaning he'll go head-to-head with the exciting Jesse Mogg.

However, Cheika has stated all along that his back-three are transferable and there's no doubt Folau will spend plenty of time out wide.

If Berrick Barnes can return from a knee injury, his passing game at No.12 should further enhance Folau's involvement in attack.

Deans will also be interested to see the result of the George Smith effect at the Brumbies. The veteran openside flanker is set to face the Waratahs, as an impact player off the bench.

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