Bernard Foley has emerged as a bolter for the vacant Wallabies’ No.10 jumper with a starring role in the Waratahs’ Super Rugby win over the Lions.
Bernard Foley staked his claim for the Wallabies’ vacant five-eighth role after piloting the NSW Waratahs back into the Super Rugby top six on Sunday.
In a man-of-the-match display, Foley had a hand or foot in four of NSW’s five tries and landed seven goals from as many attempts in the Waratahs’ 41-13 bonus-point win over the Lions at Allianz Stadium.
The decisive victory marked the first time in two-and-a-half months the Waratahs had won back-to-back matches and catapulted Michael Cheika’s men from eighth on the ladder to fourth as the countdown to the finals begin in earnest.
Foley’s eye-catching 21-point contribution was the perfect response to revelations that Australia’s incumbent No.10, Quade Cooper will miss the June 7 Test against France in Brisbane after sustaining a serious shoulder injury on Saturday night.
Cooper was dislocated his shoulder early in the Queensland Reds’ 30-27 loss to the Melbourne Rebels at Suncorp Stadium and will be out for at least a month.
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has a plethora of options at his disposal, but Foley’s classy performance on Sunday was a timely reminder of his all-round capabilities.
The 24-year-old former Australian sevens star opened the scoring with a solo try and provided the second before halftime for midfield partner in crime Kurtley Beale with a skilful left-foot grubber kick into the Lions’ in-goal area.
Foley then handled twice for the Waratahs’ match-sealing third five-pointer after the break to winger Rob Horne and put the icing on the cake with a sideline conversion after the fulltime siren following another key touch for Horne’s second try.
All up, Foley slotted five conversions and two penalty goals in a flawless display of goalkicking.
Cheika expects McKenzie to opt for Brumbies five-eighth Matt Toomua, but said neither Foley nor Beale would look out of place in the gold No.10 jumper against Les Bleus.
He is hoping Beale playing in the centres for the Waratahs doesn’t adversely impact on his selection chances.
“I think both Bernard and Kurtley could do the job as well, if necessary,” Cheika said.
“Bernard’s started running more, which is opening up more space for Kurtley,” Cheika said.
“I’m really happy with that duo. Kurtley’s made a sacrifice for us because he’s playing in a position we want him to play.
“I respect that, but it could hinder his chances further up the chain as well.”
Wallabies centre Adam Ashley-Cooper also crossed on Sunday after reeling in Beale’s chip over the top as the Waratahs remained unbeaten at home in 2014 to close to within one competition point of Australian conference leaders the Brumbies.
With the Brumbies still facing a points-less weekend off with a bye, their round-17 showdown with the Waratahs in Sydney looms as a likely conference decider.
Labelling the NSW backline “sublime”, Lions coach Johan Ackermann said the Waratahs were the real deal and would be particularly tough to beat for the title if they secure a home final.
Cheika, though, said competition for playoff spots was still too tight for the Waratahs to start day dreaming about snaring an elusive first Super Rugby championship.
“What we’ve got to do is just think about the next game and not get carried away,” he said.
“It’s still a long way for us to go to navigate five games.
“As much as you think we might get in, we could miss out as well.”