When Wallabies playmaker Bernard Foley thinks back to that day last October, it almost seems like a dream. Two tries and a man of the match performance as Australia dumped the hosts, England, out of their own World Cup. At Twickenham, the home of English rugby, no less
As Sam Peters of the Mail on Sunday wrote: “Wallaby fly-half Bernard Foley could play the game until he is 100 and never produce a more complete 80-minute performance than this one. Two tries, three conversions and four penalties gave him a personal haul of 28 points. He was in a different class.”
His first try came on 20 minutes to give the Wallabies the upper hand 10-3, and when he went over again five minutes before half time to make it 17-3 the writing was already on the wall.
“It was a bit of a dream game for myself” agrees Foley, “but things just went to plan and we were very lucky that the things that we worked on came to fruition.”
More than the match itself the 26-year-old remembers the epic lead up.
“The build-up and anticipation to that game was so extreme” he explains, “we were just looking forward to getting into it.”
“I remember on the bus to the game, the crowds around the stadium, the fan zone in Richmond, it was overflowing. Driving to Twickenham, the number of people in Wallabies jerseys and also English jerseys, it was at a level that I’d never experienced.”
But somehow Michael Cheika’s team stayed calm in this pressure cooker and produced when they needed it most. It was the home team that cracked.
“What probably helped us was the circumstances that England were in, with that lost to Wales the week before” says Foley. Another lost would put them out of the World Cup, becoming the first host nation in history not to reach the knockout stages.
The Wallabies embraced the occasion, England shrunk from it.
But for Foley the final 33-13 score line was the end product of months of hard work.
“For me it was months and months of build-up, preparation” he explains. “The talk about that game was something I’ve never experienced. Ever since the (RWC) draw got released, everything put so much pressure on that match.”
“Ever since we got together as the Wallabies last year, even before the Bledisloe Cups, before the Rugby Championship, everything was building up to those crucial pool games at the World Cup (against England and Wales). They would (decide) whether we got through (to the knockout stages) and all the preparation was leading towards that.”
Australia did get through and went on to reach the Final where they fell short to a legendary All Blacks side with another fly half, Dan Carter, having a dream match. But nothing can take the gloss of the victory over the old foe.
“There was that nervous energy but we ‘d worked hard,” says Foley, “Definitely it was my biggest game (of my life) up till then. The nature of the game in that we had to win it and England, it was going to knock them out of their home tournament, that was the exciting part.”
But it’s a very different England side that Foley and his team mates will face tonight. Under new coach, former Wallabies and Japan mentor Eddie Jones, the red roses are indeed blooming, earlier this year securing their first clean sweep of the Six Nations since 2003 and a much celebrated Grand Slam.
But Foley believes Jones’ squad still have a score to settle from the RWC.
“As much as they probably don’t talk about,” he says, “and it’s a new squad, new coaches, a whole new feel, I think there will still be that plan to come out here and square it up a little bit.”
“For England it’s having that redemption. Come away from home, the pressure is off them, and upset the party.”
“I saw most of their games or parts of their games (in the Six Nations), (and) what Eddie’s going to bring to that side is making sure they are fully prepared. They are completely across everything that’s going to happen in the game.”
“His ability to make sure that they are ready for each game is going to be a really exciting challenge for us. No way is he going to allow them to be complacent or under prepared. He turns over every stone in his match preparation and that’s exactly what they are going to bring when they come out here.”
After Jones time in charge of the Brumbies (1998-2001), the Wallabies (2001-05) and don’t forget a brief spell in charge of the Reds (2007), Foley knows he brings inside knowledge to his new role.
“I’m sure he’s got a good insight on how to play in Australia” says Foley. “He’ll know the places to go, the places to train so in that regard they’re lucky to have him. I’m sure there will (also) be that sense of being the spoiler.”
Whoever Foley directly faces up against tonight – Owen Farrell or George Ford – he has great respect for the English playmakers.
“They’re both very dangerous players and what Eddie’s allowed them to do is really play a style that they’re proud about” explains Foley. “England traditionally are always strong upfront and nothing has changed but Eddie has brought an attacking prowess.”
“You’ve just seen how well Owen has gone through the Six Nations and on the back of that he’s just won the European championship with Saracens so his club form is red hot as well.
“Those two players, although quite different in the sense that Ford is quite a traditional number 10, plays a smart style of rugby; they both have a good running game if you allow them to run – so they are both definitely dangerous people with the ball in hand.”
A grade three tear in the AC joint of his left shoulder in a trial match saw Foley miss the first five weeks of Super Rugby this season and it was clear while he was out how much the Tahs missed him.
But Foley sees it as a “mini blessing” after a busy off-season playing with Ricoh Black Rams in Japan.
“It allowed me to have a pre-season back here with the Waratahs” he says, “and allowed me to get my body into good shape for the rest of the season. At the time it was disappointing not to be there for the start but I think the silver lining was it allowed me to have a little break from playing Rugby and to focus on other aspects, the gym and my conditioning.”
Now Foley wants to reward all the Wallabies fans’ late nights during RWC.
“We really enjoyed the World Cup” he explains, “and were very disappointed (when we lost the final). It fuels our hunger now to go so close and not get the ultimate result.”
“As a team we’ve set a standard that we want to achieve, over and over again, and it’s exciting for us to now come home and show our home fans how we want to play. We’ve got to repay the time where they stayed up all night to watch 6am games, 3am games – so for us it’s exciting to play a home test in front of our fans.”
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