Izzy’s likely successor says he’s up to the challenge
IF Israel Folau's contract is torn up over his Code of Conduct breach, one of the frontrunners to replace him as Wallabies fullback has some reassuring words for worried fans.
Not only is Dane Haylett-Petty up for the challenge if he's called on to fill Folau's boots, but the Melbourne Rebels skipper maintains Australia can win the greatest prize in rugby regardless because there's enough quality players to cover for anyone who misses out.
"With the players we have, there's no reason we can't win it this year. I definitely believe that," Haylett-Petty told The Daily Telegraph.
"We obviously need to pull it together and there are of things we need to work on but when you look around the country, there's a lot of good rugby players and a lot of competition for spots at the moment."
If the Wallabies do defy the doubters and win the World Cup, Haylett-Petty could be the saviour Australian rugby desperately needs.
Initially picked as a winger when he was elevated into the Test squad, Haylett-Petty's outstanding form at fullback for the Rebels last year was too irresistible for Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, who did the unthinkable by moving Folau to wing and giving Haylett-Petty a crack at the No. 15 jersey.
"Having played there for four or five games last year, I definitely feel comfortable at 15," Haylett-Petty said.
"I'll play anywhere I'm asked but having played most of my rugby at fullback, it's a position I really like and it suits my strengths probably more so than wing."
It was an instant success, most famously when Haylett-Petty rose from his sick bed to produce a man of the match performance in the miracle win over Argentina in Salta.
He did move back to the wing for the tour of Europe but only after convincing Cheika he had his back up should Folau not make it to Japan.
"I think last year definitely made me feel like I belong there but it was was made easier by the system we play, where the wingers spend a lot of time at the back, almost in a hybrid role," he said.
"It's very hard to be out of the game at fullback, even when you're defending because they're usually kicking you the ball, but you can get involved from ball play or you can stand wide and get a bit of space so that's probably what I enjoy about fullback."
It's been two decades since the Wallabies got their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup but not a day has gone by when Haylett-Petty hasn't thought about winning it after having two close encounters with the men who have.
In 2003, the England team turned up at his high school in Perth to train. After they finished their practice session, England five-eighth Jonny Wilkinson - the man who broke Australia's heats with his extra-time field goal in the final - called out to Haylett-Petty and gave him a pair of socks.
Even before that, in 1995 when he was still living in South Africa before the family emigrated to Australia, Haylett-Petty's father took him to see the World Cup semi-final between the Springboks and France in Durban.
"I was only six years old but I still never forget that day. It was pouring with rain by my dad bought me a beanie which I wore for years," he said.
"Then when the Springboks went on to win the final, everyone just went nuts, and that's the moment I decided to be a rugby player."