Sydney - New South Wales Waratahs fullback Israel Folau will be unable to add to his remarkable season tally of eight tries this weekend after being ruled out of the Super Rugby clash against the Sharks with a bruised throat.
After eight scores in his first four matches, it looked like only injury could prevent Folau from breaking the single season Super Rugby record of 15, which is jointly held by Joe Roff (1997) and Rico Gear (2005).
Folau sustained the injury in the victory over the Melbourne Rebels last weekend and was initially kept in Sydney to receive treatment while his team mates went ahead to South Africa.
Although he will miss the match against table-topping Sharks in Durban, the Waratahs are still hopeful Folau will be fit to face the Stormers in Cape Town on April 5.
“I didn't think it would be this bad, there is still swelling in my throat and I will have to see the specialist again this Friday, it's disappointing,” said Folau, who will turn 25 next week.
“Freak” is the word most commonly used to describe Folau's abilities - by team mates and opponents alike - and the record would just be one of many he has claimed since he notched 21 tries in his debut rugby league season with Melbourne Storm.
Folau was just 17 when he exploded to prominence in the National Rugby League and he went on to score 73 tries in 91 matches over four seasons for Melbourne and the Brisbane Broncos.
His representative stats were equally impressive with six tries in eight tests for the Kangaroos and seven in eight games for Queensland in the State of Origin series.
In 2010, he made an unlikely code switch to Australian Rules, signing a three-year A$1.4 million ($1.28 million) deal to spearhead the indigenous code's move into rugby league's heartland with the Greater Western Sydney franchise.
For the first time in his young sporting career, though, Folau was not immediately successful and he ditched the final year of his contract to try a third code with the Waratahs.
Although initially looking a little uncomfortable in the 15-man game, he almost inevitably scored a try on his Super Rugby debut against the Queensland Reds.
Standing 195 cm (6ft 5in) tall and weighing in at 98 kg (216 lb), Folau was soon showing that his power, pace and prodigious ability under the high ball would cause problems for the best defences.
He scored eight tries in 14 matches in his debut season for New South Wales and then Australia coach Robbie Deans gave him his international debut in the cauldron of the first test against the British and Irish Lions.
Unfazed, Folau scored his first try with his second touch of the ball and then produced another spectacular effort to step past Jonny Sexton and power through the tackle of Leigh Halfpenny, securing a brace.
Australia lost the series and had a disappointing Rugby Championship but by the end of the year Folau had scored 10 tries in 15 test matches - equalling the record single season tally for the Wallabies.
The counter-attacking style played by the Waratahs this year and a growing understanding with team mate Kurtley Beale have afforded him even more opportunities to get into the attack this season.
Having already scored 26 tries in his first 33 professional rugby union matches, the bad news for opponents of the Waratahs and Australia is that Folau appears to be getting better.
“I always thought he was talented,” former Wallabies flyhalf and current ACT Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said earlier this month.
“His first games last year, he was well out of his depth. But now he's well and truly one of the best players in Super Rugby.” – Reuters