Head-to-head competition no issue for Foley

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies playmaker Bernard Foley says he doesn’t need a successor breathing down his neck to take his game to the next level.

Foley is the only specialist flyhalf in the Wallabies Spring Tour squad, with the omission of Quade Cooper once more, and is close to an automatic selection when it comes to the XV each week.

The Waratahs 10 has started at flyhalf in all but seven of his 52 Wallabies Tests, with five straight matches at inside centre last year his longest stint away from the pivot role.

Cooper is the only other player who has started at 10 for the Wallabies in recent memory, with Foley staking his claim on the spot since  2014.

Queensland Country inside centre Duncan Paia’aua stepped into the flyhalf spot against the Barbarians, but was left at home as well, with Michael Cheika looking to grow dpeth at fullback, in the absence of Israel Folau.

Duncan Paia'aua scores a try against the Barbarians. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyThree of Australia’s Super Rugby teams were, at times, led by international 10s this year, in a concerning sign for the long-term stocks in that spot.

That trend has shifted in the NRC, with Paia’aua’s teammate Hamish Stewart and Mack Mason emerging through the year, the latter being brought in to train with the Wallabies a number of times.

That Foley is not in a day-to-day battle for his spot doesn’t affect his mentality, though.

“Competition's great and everything but for me it's self-motivation that drives me more,” he said.

“I push myself to an extreme level and for this team and for the guys around me, for myself, Kurtley, Will, Nick Phipps, those guys, as a unit we want to keep improving, keep getting the most out of each other and perform at such a high level.

“Complacency only occurs when you compare yourself to external factors and external objects. So, for me it's definitely not a thing that's driving me.

“As a team and where we want to get to, there's bigger issues than direct competition.”

Foley, though, said the pool wasn’t as shallow as it might have seemed from the outside.

“There's some depth there,” he said.

“I think we saw how well Duncan went on the weekend, he probably hasn't played all that much time at 10 but he's able to slot in and he scored two tries and led the team to a win.

“I wouldn't say there's a lack of depth there.

“I think also having (Kurtley Beale) and (Reece Hodge) is also applied himself really well in that area, especially training and probably hasn't gotten that opportunity in a game but he's applied himself really well and understands that role quite well.

“Having a guy like Kurtley who can interchange between 10, 12 and 15 is something that is so valuable in building depth across the whole backline.”

One of those bigger issues is ensuring the Wallabies take another step after beating the All Blacks in Brisbane, as they embark on their Spring Tour.

“We're not relaxing after beating the All Blacks,” he said.

“We've got to take our game to another level, we've got to keep improving.

“We've showed signs of improvement throughout this season and that can not stop.

“We've got to keep showing better resilience and that winning mentality.”

Wallabies attack coach Stephen Larkham said they were keeping close watch on the next crop of playmakers, with Stewart and Mason among those leading the charge.

“I think if you look at the tour squad at the moment, there's probably Bernard, Reece and KB as the  three candidates to jump in at 10 and we're also still looking back in Australia through the NRC to see if anyone's coming through the competition,” he said.

“There's Kyle Godwin, we still look at Quade Cooper, Hamish Stewart, Mack Mason, so we're keeping a key eye on those guys back in Australia to see their performances as well for the future.”

The Wallabies take on Japan on Saturday November 4, kicking off at 2:40pm local, 4:40pm AEDT LIVE on FOX SPORTS.