Cruisin’ for a bruisin’

Com­pla­cent Fo­ley needs to be chal­lenged

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - RUGBY - BREN­DAN CAN­NON

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.

LIGHT PACK

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.

IZZY EF­FECT

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

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