He may not be perfect, but Bernard Foley produced his best game in Bledisloe III for a long while.
Clear decision making, an inside ball or two, desperate defence, diving on a loose ball to save a try, a nice line break and a deft attacking kick – it was all pretty to watch. After signing a one-year only deal through to next year’s Rugby World Cup, it does beg the question of who is the next Wallabies fly half beyond RWC 2019?
Ah, for a perfect 10. No, I’m not talking about the 1979 movie 10 starring the sizzling Bo Derek and a youthful Dudley Moore. I’m talking a straight running, all tackling, short passing, long passing, kicking out of hand and off the tee, all singing, all dancing, flyhalf.
But have they made him yet? 1979 will also be remembered as the year that the last perfect 10, one Mark Ella, emerged on the scene in representative rugby for the Waratahs.
Since then the Wallabies have had some effective and talented, but imperfect 10s such as Michael Lynagh, Stephen Larkham and Matt Giteau with cameos from David Knox, Rod Kafer, Berrick Barnes, Quade Cooper et al.
So, who is the next Wallabies flyhalf? With this question on my mind after the weekend’s Bledisloe Cup match, last night I fell into a deep sleep and dreamed a dream.
In that dream, I was a fly on the wall in Michael Cheika’s office. Despite my long-held belief that there are no flies on Cheika, I perched on his back to gain entry to his coaches meeting before taking up the more customary position as the fly on the wall.
General Cheika sat in a large reclining office chair, feet up the desk. On the other side of the desk are his lieutenants, attack coach Steven Larkham, minister for defence Nathan Grey, set piece coach Simon Raiwalui and skills coach Mick Byrne.
Cheika starts the meeting, “Grab a seat please gents?” he asks.
“But there are only two stools in here now boss, and there are four of us. Is there something you need to tell us?” Grey asks.
“I’ll call Raelene and ask her what’s going on”, Cheika replies.
“Meanwhile let’s get started. Big improvement from Salta to Tokyo. Well done. Righto we need to find a new number 10, a perfect 10, to replace Bernard. The Ice Man has agreed to one-year deal so that after the RWC he can head to the south of France or Japan and put some coin away.”
The coaches had put the word out in a recent ad in the positions vacant section of the Wallabies Classifieds.
It read as follows: “Wanted for immediate start: Fly half. Commencing November 2019. Goal kicking skills, whilst not essential will be viewed favourably. The Wallabies are an open-minded flexible workplace, so if you have never played flyhalf, your application may still be considered.”
The white board on the wall opposite reads “Who will play in the 10 jersey after the RWC ? Goal kicking duties?”
Under it are the words written in a mixture of Arabic, French and Italian, which Cheika translates for his men, “Matt Toomua. Last man standing. Choice of one. Fait accompli. Not sure about his goal kicking….”.
There is one CV on Cheika’s desk. Cheika lifts it up for effect and says
“Choice of one, boys!” before dropping it down on the desk for effect.
Toomua now, 28, is the Melbourne-born, Brisbane State Boys High product. An artisanal tradesman, a workhorse with the rugby smarts, rather than a gifted enigma. Toomua has a habit of winning ever since emerging a year 11 student way back in 2006, guiding the under-rated Queensland Schoolboys 2nd XV, to a maiden victory.
Of interest to readers, all of the hype that year, surrounded the much-awaited meeting of his flyhalf opponents in that tournament: two of the biggest schoolboy names in the history of the competition in Quade Cooper (Queensland Schools 1st XV) and Kurtley Beale (NSW Schools 1st XV).
But back to the meeting. “Righto lads, I know Toomua is the man to replace Foley in need. But as you know, there are dozens of bloody applicants, so today’s discussion is really about who gets the spring tour bolter’s jersey”, concludes Cheika.
The rest of the applicant’s CVs are sitting in four distinct piles on the floor of Cheika’s office. They are marked clearly as follows.
Pile 1: Failed Experiments: Kurtley Beale, Reece Hodge, Duncan Paia’aua, James O’Connor.
Pile 2: The Old Codgers: Matt Giteau 36, Quade Cooper 30, Berrick Barnes 32, Christian Lealiifano 31.
Then, sifting through Pile 3, Unfulfilled Talent, and Pile 4, Young Bucks, Cheika scratches his head in frustration, re-organises them, putting them into piles by province and then scratches his head again.
“Crikey. We got three blokes from the 2006 Schoolboys comp in Cooper, Beale and Toomua. You’d reckon someone apart from Bernard would have bloody emerged since then?” asks Cheika.
The piles of CVs are now Waratahs: Bryce Hegarty, former Bronco. The busy, level headed Queenslander Mac Mason from Easts via the Melbourne Storm academy. Cheika adds Andrew Deegan, 23, to the Waratahs pile saying, “Western Force, former Waratahs squad member, St Joseph’s and Randwick product, the ‘Tahs might get him back in, once Bernard goes.”
The Melbourne Rebels pile has former Waratah Dave Horwitz. “2015 Ken Catchpole Medallist for the best and fairest in the Shute Shield but now the Rebels didn’t use him, he gone O.S.” says Cheika.
The other CV is Jack Debreczeni 25. Currently playing for Northland in the Mitre 10 Cup, the Auckland-born player is a Sydney’s Trinity Grammar and Western Suburbs product. “With Quade signing with Melbourne, I’ve asked Dave Wessels to pick Hodge in the 12 or 13 jersey. I thought we’d be picking Jack by now but now he can’t get even get a run with the Rebels.”
The Brumbies pile has one CV in it. Wharenui Hawera, 25, from the Waikato via Southland’s Mitre 10 Cup team, signed by Larkham because the cupboard was bare with local talent.
The Queensland Reds pile has three CVs in it. First is Hamish Stewart, 20, the former Toowoomba Grammar student who has had Brad Thorn’s controversial endorsement. Stewart looks the goods and was invited into Wallabies camp earlier in 2018. At 25 he will be nearing his peak for RWC 2023.
In Reds pile Cheika has also included the CV of Jake McIntyre 24, currently playing in France, and says, “we might get him back in a year or two.”
“Jono Lance, 28. I like Jono, he’s tough like his old man Deano. He has played in more clubs than Slim Dusty: Reds, Waratahs, Force, Rebels, Reds again. Can we get him into Lealiifano’s gig at the Brumbies? I’d love to see him get the grand slam of SR jerseys?”, asks Cheika.
“The entire Lucas family has applied as a unit. I know they are all identical and probably interchangeable, but it’s just too confusing. Can anyone tell them apart?” asks Cheika.
Then he sits back, hands behind head and feet up on the desk, rocks forward and puts his head in his hands.
“Righto put the remaining names in a hat. We all know this is a benevolent dictatorship but, just so we look like a democracy with a process, to keep RA happy, please put in the minutes that we voted and it was unanimous” Cheika reaches into the hat.
“And the winner is ….”, Cheika pulls out a name and reads it out in a loud voice “Hamish Stewart!” he pauses for effect and then continues “he’s our bolter for the Spring Tour and we’ll take him to Japan for the RWC. Remind me to tell him to guard that bloody mascot with his life.”
“Hang on what’s that other CV over there?” asks General Cheika.
“That’s Will Skelton’s, sir?” say Simon Raiwalui.
“Skelton. Yes, Skelton” ponders Cheika. “Soft hands and a good pass for a big man. Can he kick goals? Simon, call Will Skelton and tell him to be on standby – and get, an XXL ordered with a ten on the back. If you can’t get Skelton, see if Bo Derek wants to come along. She has a nice pass from left to right and can kick off both feet”.
Cheika reached for the can of Mortein. Alas, I woke up. Hamish Stewart for the bolter’s jersey.
Cheika is the right man for the job and will get his four assistants locked in for the year ahead. Tokyo showed us that the Wallabies are back on the right track.
We had never heard of Salta, Argentina a month ago, but let’s hope it is remembered the point at which Michael Cheika’s Wallabies turned it all around.