Footballing freak Israel Folau is setting impossibly high standards that no other rugby union convert – including Benji Marshall – should expect to match.
That’s the opinion of former All Black centre and now NSW Waratahs assistant coach Daryl Gibson, who says he’s disappointed Marshall’s rugby career hasn’t worked out.
Gibson has no doubt that “given time, he could have really learnt the game and prospered”.
But with the benefit of hindsight, Gibson believes Blues coach Sir John Kirwan erred in thrusting the former rugby league international into the five-eighth hot seat in his debut season in Super Rugby.
Gibson, who has marvelled at Folau’s meteoric rise in rugby, says the Blues should have followed the Folau blueprint and played Marshall at fullback or wing first.
Like Folau, Lote Tuqiri, Mat Rogers and Wendell Sailor also began their rugby careers out wide before graduating as dual internationals.
“Rugby union is quite a technical game in some positions and (playing in the) backline, particularly the pivotal position of fly-half, is probably the most technical and difficult to learn very fast,” Gibson said on Tuesday.
“With limited time, it’s going to be difficult. Quite often with transitional rugby league players, it’s (a case of) put them in the back three and let them learn the game from there.
“In retrospect, we’re all sort of learning how to transition rugby league players in union and, from our experience with Israel, putting him at wing and fullback gives him the opportunity to learn the game and now he’s really learning and accelerating his growth in the game exponentially.”
Marshall is a former Golden Boot winner as the world’s best rugby league player, but has sought an immediate release from his Blues contract just eight games into his code switch, admitting he is “just an average rugby player”.
At only 18, Folau was the youngest player to debut for the Kangaroos before spending two years in the AFL and then starring for the Wallabies in his maiden season of rugby.
Gibson said it was unrealistic to have expected Marshall to emulate Folau.
“Israel accelerated in 10 games and became a Wallaby in 11, I believe,” he said.
“I think what we’ve got to remember is that Israel is an exceptional athlete and then also has the ability to learn and learn very quickly. It’s incredible.
“Every sort of week I’m astounded by it. I teach him something and he learns that very quickly and puts it into practice almost immediately.
“So that can never be underestimated, that ability to download the software for a new game.”