Waratahs step around Folau storm - again

More consternation around Israel Folau won't distract the Waratahs ahead of their crunch Super Rugby derby against the Brumbies insists skipper Michael Hooper.

ISRAEL FOLAU of the Wallabies celebrates scoring a try during an International Test match at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Australia.
ISRAEL FOLAU of the Wallabies celebrates scoring a try during an International Test match at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Australia. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The Waratahs are so accustomed to off-field drama that this week's bushfires around Israel Folau and Tolu Latu have barely caused a ripple for skipper Michael Hooper heading into a season-defining Super Rugby match.

Any hope of sneaking into the finals will hinge on beating the Australian conference-leading Brumbies in Sydney on Saturday.

While the visitors are coming off four straight wins and are on the verge of booking a home final, Hooper's men have floundered into 10th spot in a season overshadowed by Folau's battle with the national body, resulting in a torn-up contract.

On Thursday the star fullback launched multi-million dollar legal action against Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby.

Hours earlier, Folau's brother was granted a release from the Waratahs.

Added to that, World Cup candidate Latu's wretched season took another turn when he was cleared to play this weekend while he awaits sentencing, after pleading guilty to a drink driving charge.

Hooper had no problem welcoming back the Wallabies hooker after a two-week stand-down, saying he respected the integrity unit's decision.

The tough front-rower had joined the rest of the team in making Saturday's clash their sole priority.

"As far as a playing group's concerned, he's apologised, he's talked to the group about his actions," Hooper said.

"What we can focus on is rugby and that's what we have to focus on - we can't let that stuff distract us.

"This (Folau) stuff's been going on in the background for a long time now. For us, it's very much the game this weekend. That stuff's in Rugby Australia hands and the Waratahs."

Hooper admitted to a grudging admiration for the way the Brumbies had stormed into the top echelon of the table, noting their play had gone to another level from the point when they toured South Africa in April.

"They've played really good rugby since then and it's been enjoyable to watch but now it's time to play them and try to shut down their threats," he said.

"Make them uncomfortable. Take them away from what they want to do.

"They have such a good set piece and have really started to hit their straps."

The Brumbies have won five of their last six derbies against the Waratahs, including this year's 19-13 arm-wrestle in Canberra - a spectacle that Hooper said was typical of the grinds the two rivals have put out in recent seasons.


AAP