Relishing new role: Bernard Foley is preparing himself for a long stay at No. 12. Photo: Stuart Walmsley/ARU mediaLondon: When you ask Bernard Foley if deep down he wants to be back at five-eighth for the Wallabies, he pauses for a second.
“No.10 is all I’ve known, so it’s the position I played for many, many years and played with Cheik [coach Michael Cheika] for many years,” he says.
Foley pauses briefly again, thinks, then continues.
“But I’m actually enjoying this challenge at [number] 12 and learning through every game I play,” he says. “Whether it’s 10 or 12, it hasn’t changed too much what I want to do on the field.”
With Quade Cooper putting his name forward as a possible long-term five-eighth for Australia, Foley has revealed he would be prepared to make a permanent switch to inside centre for the Wallabies, and even the NSW Waratahs, if need be.
“Anything’s possible,” Foley says. “If they need someone to crash it up, they can use me. It’s probably a discussion I’ll have with Daryl [Gibson, Waratahs coach] now that Kurtley [Beale] is not there.”
Beale has left NSW for the supposedly greener pastures of English club Wasps leaving the Waratahs with a No.12 hole to fill in their roster.
However, the idea of shifting Foley one position wider in the back line raises another problem: finding a five-eighth of equal quality to fill his usual spot.
The irony in all this is Foley and Beale, despite having immense respect and nothing but praise for one another, could be battling it out for the Wallabies No.12 jersey once Beale returns from a knee injury later in the year.
“Speaking with him and having the odd conversation, he’s very diligent with his rehab,” Foley says. “He’s working hard just to get back on the field, so I don’t think you want to put the pressure on him to come back and play for the Wallabies. He’s just got to get his body right and whenever that is, he’s an asset to any team he plays in.”
Foley says, in some ways, he is developing his craft at No.12 with a focus on what Beale did so well: not being your prototype inside centre.
“Kurtley, I don’t think you could say, was a traditional 12, or a classic 12,” Foley says. “He was a second ball player that when he stood up into first receiver he took the line on and he played his way. For me, I’m not trying to play the traditional 12 or just because there’s a 12 on my back doesn’t mean I can’t move around or I’ve got to be set in a certain channel.
“KB was an optimist who just loved having the ball in his hand. He loved to attack and he loved to take on defensive line, whether it be with his running game or his short passing or his long passing. As a 12 you just want to bring a vision for the game and an ability that you can link the inside backs with the outside backs.”
Dynamic duo: Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper. Photo: Dan Mullan
Foley’s switch from five-eighth was not just a by-product of Australia’s shock series mauling by England in June, but had to do with Cheika’s steadfast belief that two playmakers is the best way to have a well-oiled back line.
“How did we lose that series?” is a common phrase uttered among Wallabies players and coaching staff in reference to the humiliation handed out by Eddie Jones’ men.
The series was a steep learning curve for then five-eighth Foley who, after some months of reflection, believes a shorter preparation is the most logical explanation as to why the Wallabies were off their game.
“Looking back on it there’s still a lot of question marks about it,” Foley says. “As a tournament where we went in with such great optimism. The short preparation told and it probably showed a little bit. In those games it was a sense that we played some really good attacking rugby. In two Test matches you score five tries – you shouldn’t be losing those Test matches.
“That’s probably the question of getting that balance right between Super Rugby and playing Test match rugby, which probably we didn’t adjust quick enough to.”
Modelling himself on Beale: Foley wants to replicate the non-traditional style of Kurtley Beale in the No. 12 jersey. Photo: Dan Mullan
Foley says he’s a better player for that series and the fact Australia has picked the same back line for four Tests in a row now can only help moving forward.
He and Cooper are tight and have regular coffee dates, while the back line brigade are quite into their cards at the moment (those in the know say things can get pretty competitive).
Asked whether he thought Cheika would continue to back he and Cooper as the side’s chief playmakers as they slowly become attuned to their own idiosyncrasies, Foley says: “I think so. Cheika’s a good man manager and a mentor. He has an ability to connect with players and get the best out of them.
“I think for the likes of Quade and I, or for anyone in this team, it’s just being the best player you can be. It’s not that you’re going to make magical leaps and bounds every day but it’s just being consistent in your preparation.”