Bernard Foley: Wallabies Iceman or flash in the pan? | RWC 2015

The Wallabies may have finally found the number 10 they’ve been searching for in the wake of Bernard Foley’s coming of age performance against England, writes Rajiv Maharaj

Has Australia finally produced a world-class fly-half in Bernard Foley, a 10 who could go on to share the same revered status as great Wallabies playmakers such as Stephen Larkham, Mark Ella and Michael Lynagh?

That’s the burning question for Australian supporters – and Welsh ones too, no doubt - heading into this weekend’s quarterfinals-defining clash against Wales. Was Foley’s stunning 28-point performance against England a flash in the pan, a good player merely having an evening where everything went his way, or was it something far more significant like, say, Daniel Carter’s astonishing career-defining turn against the British and Irish Lions in 2005?

Before Foley’s showing against England, it’s hard to recall a more complete fly-half performance in recent times, and certainly not one on such a big stage with high stakes against top tier opposition, the host nation of the Rugby World Cup no less. Finding a Test quality fly-half has been a conundrum for the Wallabies in the post-Larkham era, so much so they actually picked a winger, James O’Connor, at 10 against the 2013 British and Irish Lions. The Australian selectors have at various times tried Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale and, to a lesser extent, Matt Toomua. But none has been able to produce anything like Foley’s Twickenham spectacle.

So is Foley – nicknamed ‘Iceman’ for his ability to make clutch kicks at goal – the real deal, or a one-hit wonder? And bear in mind he only started playing fly-half for the Waratahs in 2013. Two years prior, he was a specialist sevens player before playing at full-back and second five-eighths in his debut Super season in 2011. And Foley’s selection as Australia’s starting 10 was far from assured coming into the World Cup following an error-strewn game against the Otago Highlanders in the Super Rugby semi-final in Sydney in late June.

One man ideally placed to ponder the vexed Wallabies fly-half issue is Foley’s backs coach at the NSW Waratahs since 2013, former 19-Test All Black Daryl Gibson (he was recently appointed head coach for the 2016 season to replace Michael Cheika). Gibson has no doubt Foley’s virtuoso display against England would, in time, be seen as a clear demarcation point, a line-crossing where Foley finally realised he belonged at Test level, and, more importantly perhaps, everyone else agreed. “Absolutely, he’s truly arrived on the international stage now with that performance,” Gibson said in an interview with Guardian Sport. “The England game was the one when he realised ‘hey man, I can compete at his level’. It was pretty flawless in terms of his accuracy and general play, his ability to be a threat with the ball, you know all of those key things you look for in a five-eighth.”

Gibson, who played for the All Blacks from 1999 to 2002, said quite often players had a real-time awareness of their career-defining “breaking through” moments, with the best players going on to play with an ease and confidence that previously came only sporadically. “I think there’s definitely an awareness there, yes. You’re climbing up the ladder and up the levels and then all of a sudden you start feeling comfortable, and then you have a break-out game. That’s what happened to Bernard. It happens at different times for different players in their career, and he would have known that’s what happened to him last week. I’d imagine he’d be feeling very confident now, and so he should be. He would have gained a lot of belief in his own ability that he can be a world-class player.”

More importantly for Australian rugby, though, Gibson believes the long-running question of who is the Wallabies’ best fly-half, Foley or Cooper, has finally been put to rest. “Perhaps many people were saying maybe Cooper was the answer, but I think Bernard answered a lot of the questions rugby writers and commentators had been asking about him. The key thing is he backs it up. That’s the biggest thing, but I have no doubt he will off the back of the confidence he’d now have. This could be the start of something really good for him.”

In fact, Gibson doubts if Foley was the only one to have benefitted from the England match. “For all the players, a victory of that type given the context of a brutal pool, knocking out the host nation, and in a really big match - when you get through those circumstances, it gives you a great deal of confidence. I’d imagine the Australian team are really starting to believe they can go all the way to the final,” he said.

Indeed, should Australia beat Wales, a path to the final would be that much easier for the Wallabies given a likely quarter-final opponent of either Scotland or Japan, and the All Blacks on the other side of the draw. Wales, though, would be eyeing the same route to glory, and in Warren Gatland they have a master coach who knows how to beat the Wallabies, as he did with the British and Irish Lions two years ago. An intriguing contest awaits.


Rajiv Maharaj

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Wallabies can rely on Bernard Foley to avoid ambush, says Stirling Mortlock | John Davidson
The former Australia captain is confident the in-form playmaker can guide the Wallabies past Argentina in the Rugby World Cup semi-final

John Davidson

23, Oct, 2015 @7:30 PM

Article image
England put to the sword after Australia’s Bernard Foley cuts loose
England’s 2015 Rugby World Cup hopes left in tatters after a 33-13 defeat to Australia at Twickenham

Paul Rees at Twickenham

03, Oct, 2015 @9:03 PM

Article image
Australia’s Bernard Foley ushers England out of their own World Cup | Eddie Butler
England failed to make the most of their chances while Australia’s fly-half was in dominant form, scoring 28 of his side’s 33 points

Eddie Butler at Twickenham

03, Oct, 2015 @11:45 PM

Article image
Australia forge bond through search for identity, says Bernard Foley
The Australia coach, Michael Cheika, has asked every member of his squad to trace his family tree in an effort to bind them together at Rugby World Cup

Sean Ingle

14, Oct, 2015 @5:45 PM

Article image
Unique David Pocock pivotal to Wallabies' Rugby World Cup assault | John Davidson
Activist, social campaigner and potentially the man who can lead Australia to World Cup glory – there’s more to David Pocock than meets the eye

John Davidson

16, Sep, 2015 @12:41 AM

Article image
What we learned about the Wallabies from their win over Wales | John Davidson
Defence and strength in depth of a squad is what wins Rugby World Cups – Australia are well set in both departments

John Davidson at Twickenham

11, Oct, 2015 @11:08 PM

Article image
Wallabies in sight of historic grand slam within a Rugby World Cup | Rajiv Maharaj
The draw has opened up for Australia to achieve an unprecedented feat – beating England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland at the same Rugby World Cup

Rajiv Maharaj

15, Oct, 2015 @7:30 PM

Article image
Where the Wallabies are at after two World Cup Pool A games
Australia have recorded the expected World Cup victories against Fiji and Uruguay but sterner tests await as England are up next, then Wales

John Davidson at Villa Park

27, Sep, 2015 @3:34 PM

Article image
A history of the Wallabies at the Rugby World Cup: part II | Aaron Timms
The three-part series continues with a look at Australian fortunes in the 1990s, a decade bookended by World Cup triumphs

Aaron Timms

15, Sep, 2015 @8:30 PM

Article image
A history of the Wallabies at the Rugby World Cup: part I | Aaron Timms
The first of a three-part series focuses on the early years of Australian rugby, the build-up to the inaugural World Cup in 1987 and the ensuing agony of Concord

Aaron Timms

14, Sep, 2015 @8:30 PM