Cape Town — It was a memorable night in Sydney in August 2014, as I was able to attend a thrilling Super Rugby final between the Waratahs and Crusaders.
I had won a media competition conducted by tournament sponsors Vodacom, and on the bus to the Olympic Stadium, I was asked by the other winners — who were subscribers — to make a prediction on what was going to happen in the title decider.
The Crusaders were obvious favourites, even though the Waratahs had topped the overall log. But it was “Go the Tahs!” from my side, and I even chose to wear their light blue jersey instead of the famous red-and-black outfit for the men from Christchurch.
It was a close-run thing in the end, but the Waratahs prevailed 33-32, courtesy of a penalty on the hooter by flyhalf Bernard Foley.
Eight years later, Foley is back in the headlines, having been recalled to the Wallaby squad on Thursday after a three-year absence, with James O’Connor dropped after starting against Argentina in San Juan, and Quade Cooper sidelined with a serious Achilles injury.
The pivot — who will turn 33 in September — left for Japanese club Kubota Spears after Australia’s disappointing quarter-final exit at the 2019 Cup.
He told ESPN in a recent interview that his ambition to wear the gold jumper was “definitely still burning”, and now he is set to add to his 71 Test caps against the Boks.
Coach Dave Rennie stated on Thursday that Foley might not immediately face the Boks, as his Japanese season ended on May 22 and he hasn’t played since. So, youngster Noah Lolesio is likely to wear the No 10 jersey at the Adelaide Oval next Saturday.
But Foley is a wily old campaigner who has an unbeaten record against South Africa in Australia — wins in Perth in 2014, Brisbane in 2016 and 2018, and a draw in Perth in 2017.
He scored 14, 18 and 13 points in the first three of those matches, and came on as a replacement in the fourth.
So, Foley knows how to make the Wallaby backline tick, and they will need some direction after O’Connor’s performance in San Juan was criticised by Rennie: “James got a crack in the last Test, we thought his experience would be really important and wanted him to drive the ship and allow us to implement our plan, and we were pretty clunky, to be honest, lacked cohesion, and so he’s missed out on selection.”
While not as flashy as Cooper and Lolesio, Foley is just the ideal type of general who makes his teammates look good with consistency. He makes the right decisions at the right times, kicks well out of hand and at goal, and has a strong passing game.
He has a wealth of talent out wide, with strike-runners such as Marika Koroibete, Jordan Petaia and the fit-again Andrew Kellaway, and powerful centres in Len Ikitau and Hunter Paisami.
But on Rennie’s watch, the Wallabies have improved significantly upfront, and they are well-equipped to match the Boks’ physical approach as well.
They have been strengthened by the return of experienced props Scott Sio and Allan Alaalatoa, who didn’t feature last weekend, as well as hookers Folau Fainga’a and David Porecki, while energetic No 8 Rob Valetini also won’t take a backward step to the Bok loose forwards.
The Aussies managed to topple the South Africans twice Down Under last year, and despite their heavy defeat last week in Argentina, they have the artillery to repeat their double against a Bok side that are struggling for consistency in performance and selection.
Props: Allan Alaalatoa, Angus Bell, Pone Fa’amausili, Scott Sio, James Slipper (captain), Taniela Tupou
Hookers: Folau Fainga’a, Lachlan Lonergan, David Porecki
Locks: Rory Arnold, Nick Frost, Matt Philip, Darcy Swain
Loose forwards: Langi Gleeson, Jed Holloway, Rob Leota, Fraser McReight, Pete Samu, Rob Valetini, Harry Wilson
Scrumhalves: Jake Gordon, Tate McDermott, Nic White
Flyhalves: Bernard Foley, Noah Lolesio
Centres: Lalakai Foketi, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami
Wings/Fullbacks: Jock Campbell, Reece Hodge, Andrew Kellaway, Marika Koroibete, Jordan Petaia, Suliasi Vunivalu, Tom Wright.