PARIS – For the best part of six months, Bernard Foley was speaking with Eddie Jones about the Wallabies’ World Cup campaign.
No promises, no guarantees, just a plan to jump on board Jones’ “smash and grab” job.
Foley, whose international career was reignited last spring when Dave Rennie got on the blower following Quade Cooper’s season-ending injury last August, didn’t need much convincing.
In fact, he thought and hoped he would be central to Jones’ plans.
Indeed, Jones’ fresh and unique perspective on leadership had impressed Foley and several others.
All the while, Foley, who wore the No.10 jersey in the Wallabies’ narrow defeats to New Zealand, France and Ireland last year, was on the way to leading Kubota to a maiden Japanese League One title.
Included as one of six international players to be present for zoom meetings in the Wallabies’ April training camp, Foley returned ahead of The Rugby Championship and trained with the wider squad ahead of the tournament for a fortnight.
But then the phone went silent. Foley was the only one of the six international players not selected in Jones’ TRC squad.
Then, like Cooper, Foley was left out of the Wallabies’ World Cup campaign.
Difficult? You betcha.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” Foley told The Roar at the Massy Rugby Club in Paris’ south-west, two days out from Australia A’s clash against the Wallabies’ Pool C opponents Portugal at Stade Jules Ladoumague.
“Speaking and being involved with Eddie for most of the year, he’d given me things to do and I thought I’d sort of achieved all that to get the opportunity.
“[I was] playing good footy, playing consistently good footy, getting the title and performing well, came back and did well quite well in those camp weeks.
“But he went the other way. I thought I had done enough, but didn’t get that opportunity. Now, I’ve just got to try and stay in shape, so if the opportunity does come, I’m ready.”
While Foley will wear the No.10 jersey against Portugal, for the past two months he’s been forced to get creative on the sidelines to stay fit.
“I trained with the sevens for a week or two,” he said.
“Did a lot of training and grinding with KB [Kurtley Beale] and working on our skills. Got the old crew back with Nick Phipps a couple of times as well. So, there’s a few of us around to keep us busy.”
Then he went up the coast of New South Wales to where he had gone in the months after the COVID-19 pandemic began and helped coach the local side.
“I went up to the country to train with the Bowraville Goannas, who are actually playing the grand final on Saturday. They’re trying to win their first premiership. So, I did a little bit with them as well,” Foley said.
“So, it was a bit a bit different. It was refreshing, but I was just trying to put myself in a position to be ready.”
After being looked over by Jones for the crucial TRC campaign, Foley could have laid low. After all, it was his holidays. But World Cup years are different.
It’s why he didn’t hesitate to accept an invitation to pull on the gold jersey once again for Australia A.
“What a great opportunity for guys on the eve of the World Cup being on the fringes to put in a performance that can [have Eddie] stand up and notice,” said Foley, who has played in the past two World Cup campaigns.
“Who knows what’s going to happen for the next eight to 10 weeks, right? Anything can happen as we’ve seen in World Cups.
“World Cups are the best experience you get in rugby. It’s the pinnacle. I think being here and seeing the atmosphere already that’s starting to build in Paris, why wouldn’t you want to be involved?
“Everyone wants the Wallabies to be successful and if you can contribute and play a part, then you’d definitely put your hand up.”
While Foley won’t take part in the Barbarians tour to follow, the fact he is wearing the No.10 jersey suggests he could still rocket into the World Cup reckoning.
After all, Jones has selected just one specialist fly-half in 22-year-old Carter Gordon as well as Ben Donaldson, who started and finished the Super Rugby season at fullback, for the campaign.
Have there been conversations since his World Cup snubbing? Yep, but Foley knows more than anyone that doesn’t guarantee you anything.
“It’s just being ready and staying in some form of shape,” Foley said.
“If that’s what he chooses? Who knows. There’s been some curveballs already, but you’ve got to stay ready and if you do get the call yet, you’re ready.”
As for Saturday’s clash against Portugal, the 33-year-old is excited to play against the World Cup team for the first time.
“It’ll be a bit different to play against Portugal,” Foley said.
“They’re a good side. They’ve done well in the European rugby championship, they’ve got some talented footy players. It’s a pretty exciting fixture I think for them too, leading into a World Cup.”
As for Australia A, who are being overseen by Jason Gilmore, Nathan Grey and Laurie Fisher, Foley said the entire squad recognised that there’s more than winning and losing at stake.
“Everyone’s professional footballers and this is a level up,” he said.
“This weekend’s about putting in a performance that we’re happy about. As a squad, everyone’s coming together and everyone knows what to play for. I think it’s really exciting. It’s been a great week.
“This is still a first-class match in terms of how we were going to prepare and how we’re going to handle it. The urgency and the excitement is definitely not lost on the players. Although it’s a little bit more relaxed in terms of the environment, the 80 minutes is definitely the same.”
Australia A vs Portugal won’t be broadcast but Christy Doran will be on deck in Paris to cover the match.