Predictably, one man has dominated local interest in the lead-up to the Wallabies clash with France in Paris this weekend.
Israel Folau could well call France home after next year’s World Cup and, if he does take up a lucrative Top 14 club contract, the build-up to Saturday’s (Sunday morning AEDT) match has shown he’ll be greeted warmly and with great excitement.
If the French public weren’t overly familiar with the Waratahs star’s spectacular conversion to rugby union, they were educated when he scored three tries in France’s 3-0 series loss in Australia in June.
And the signs that Folau’s star is rising thousands of kilometres from Australian shores have been clear to see in Paris this week.
The code-hopping superstar was the star attraction for autograph hunters among a crowd of around 1000 – mostly teens and children – which turned out to watch the Wallabies train in suburban Paris on Tuesday.
An eager French press pack has also been keen to discuss the former NRL and AFL star at every opportunity to speak with Australian players.
“Is he the best player in the world right now?
“The best you’ve ever played with?
“Are there others like this coming from rugby league?”
Folau’s Australian teammates have embraced the hype and are only too happy to sing his praises.
Halfback Nick Phipps told French journalists he knew little about Folau before joining the Waratahs but had since been struck by his off-field demeanour more than anything.
“The amount of stuff he’s achieved and for him to be such a humble, nice guy is something that I really admire about him and something I’d like to be known for,” Phipps said.
“There’s so many people in the world that haven’t achieved nearly as much as he had and they carry on like they have and get under people’s skin.
“There wouldn’t be a bloke in the team who wouldn’t easily say they love to play with Izzy, even if he wasn’t the talented guy he was.”
Winger Joe Tomane, another cross-code convert, was asked whether Folau was the best player he played with.
“It’s hard to say. I’ve played with a lot of great players. If you know rugby league’s there’s a guy called Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Cam Smith, Scott Prince,” Tomane said.
What about in rugby union?
“I’ve played with a lot of great players here too but he’s definitely up there,” Tomane continued.
“He’s a one-of-a-kind athlete.”
Despite an impressive year which has yielded seven tries in 11 Test matches, Folau was overlooked on Wednesday in the nominations for the International Rugby Board world player of the year.