Cruisin’ for a bruisin’
Complacent Foley needs to be challenged
ONE of my big concerns about the Waratahs, and Wallabies for that matter, is the form of Bernard Foley this year.
He has not been playing well, certainly not at the levels we’ve seen in previous seasons. And I feel a sense of comfort surrounding his position is the main factor.
The problem is that there is no other Australian fiveeighth around pushing Foley for the Wallabies’ No.10 jersey. It’s Foley and daylight.
With Quade Cooper banished to club rugby, Christian Lealiifano coming back from a long lay-off and being shifted between five-eighth and inside centre, Jack Debrezceni struggling without Will Genia, and Jono Lance failing to fire the Reds, it’s an alarming situation.
The nearest rival to Foley for his spot is Tahs inside centre Kurtley Beale (below), and we all know they’ll be the No.10 and No.12 for Australia under Michael Cheika.
So we’ve got the premier playmaker in the country running around every week in Super Rugby knowing full well that he is getting picked to start for Australia no matter what sort of form he’s in.
Tha t shows. My observations of Foley and the Waratahs this season lead me to believe he is cruis- ing a bit. I don’t think it’s deliberate on Foley’s part, but as a result of nobody else pressuring him.
This is a bad situation for NSW; they’re not getting the best out of their conductor.
The Tahs had the Lions under pressure early last Friday night, and Foley needed to step up and take ownership of the game. He couldn’t execute.
Then as the Lions wore down the Tahs in the second half, NSW needed Foley’s spark but he couldn’t fire. NSW need Foley to play like he’s fighting to get into the Wallabies, not like he’s already on the team sheet.
The Tahs have a lightish, smaller forward pack. They’re willing and capable but they were found out by the Lions.
What we know now is that there is a huge difference between the top, middle and bottom sides in Super Rugby — bigger than what we thought.
And as the season progresses that will be further exposed. The Lions are the real deal. The Tahs have got elements of a good team, but their challenge is to make the most of what they have. Every team in the comp would have watched that game last Friday and seen the Lions put down the blueprint of how to stop NSW playing the game that suits a smaller, mobile pack.
It’s not doom and gloom yet, though. NSW have beaten some good sides already this year, but their biggest challenge looms as they prepare to take on four Kiwi teams in succession.
Israel Folau will return for the Tahs’ next game against the Blues in a fortnight, and there’ll be a twofold impact.
When you’ve got your best player running onto the park alongside you, it lifts the entire team. You feel like you’ve got your full suit of armoury on and are bulletproof.
And while the Tahs will say the Izzy issue hasn’t physically affected them this past fortnight, I don’t believe it.
This is a highly unusual situation, where the players have had to defend a teammate’s religious beliefs amid a very sensitive subject.
Many aren’t expert media identities but have had to front up and defend Folau. And you’ve got to be very conscious of how you word your statements because there is intense scrutiny around it all. It has been a massive distraction, created by Folau’s comments alone, and he’s pulled all of his teammates into it.
Hopefully he can repay them on the field.
Bernard Foley in action during the Waratahs’ drubbing at the hands of the Lions on Friday night. Picture: Getty