Foley must park his Irish bonds in search of first victory

There will be no sentiment when Australia fly-half Bernard Foley locks horns once again with Ireland on Saturday bidding for a first victory over the old country at the third attempt.

Despite his father steering the Waratahs’ star down to Cork to connect with relatives when the Wallabies visited Dublin in November, 2016, Foley’s affection for Ireland and the Irish, ends the minute he pulls on the gold jersey of his homeland, as he is set to do on Saturday in the opening Test at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

“Every Test match is the same, although I’ve never beaten the Irish, albeit I have only played them twice. It would be special to get a win over them, I suppose and to start the series off well,” Foley said.

“My ancestry goes a long way back, I think, before my grandparents. They were probably my great-grandparents. 

"My father loves history, he has a passion for that sort of thing, so when I played in Ireland before, I went down to Cork to meet up with some of my distant, distant relatives as well as some friends I know down there.”

Foley, 28, has the utmost respect for the team he hopes to face over three successive Saturdays this month, particularly their march to the 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam and the accompanying rise to number two in the world rankings, a position the Wallabies lost their grip on in June 2016 following their home series whitewash by England.

Ireland have done well to get there, they deserve their ranking, and when I watched the Six Nations, they impressed in the way they performed for the occasion. Scotland were playing so well, yet they beat them.

"England in Twickenham, unbeaten there since the World Cup, they beat them. Wales, Italy, good sides, they delivered.

“But the one that stands out for me was the victory in Paris that night, the rotten conditions, the way they held the ball at the end and held their belief and their composure to win that game when it really counted.

"That really instilled belief inside each of them that it was going to be possible and they carried the momentum with them.”

While half-back partner Will Genia admitted he had underestimated Ireland when the sides met at the 2011 World Cup and Australia suffered a shock 15-6 pool defeat at Eden Park, Foley disputes he shared a similar perception.

“No, Ireland have always been a force in my mind.

Growing up, watching them, especially when they had the likes of Ronan (O’Gara), Brian O’Driscoll, Keith Wood, those guys, especially in 2002 when you beat us, and 2003, when the World Cup was on and there was that great game (when the then world champions edged the Irish 17-16 in the final pool game in Melbourne) they have always been considered a dominant team for us, always viewed as an inventive, creative side, which is a real credit to them.

“So I have always considered them dangerous and you know, their hard work has paid off in the last couple of years with what they have achieved, that win over the All Blacks, the Grand Slam, and also with Leinster being European champions, it all reaffirms how good a rugby country Ireland is.”

There is a feeling in world rugby that the Australians could do with a bit of reaffirmation about how good the Wallabies are. 

Since Foley helped guide Michael Cheika’s side to the 2015 World Cup final, where they lost an exciting decider 34-17, there have been just 13 victories in the 29 games that have followed although Ireland have taken great heed of their victory over the All Blacks last October, their most recent Test at Suncorp Stadium.

While admitting results could have been better in that period, Foley points to a period of rebuilding under Cheika which he believes will bear fruit in time for another tilt at the Webb Ellis Cup at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

“The preparation into that 2015 World Cup lasted for months and we were able to get to know one another as a squad, to prepare well and do well for that World Cup. Since then, we have had a changeover.

“There have been 20-plus debutants, and so that lack of continuity had an impact. 

"But what I believe is that the decision to blood so many players in the last two years is going to pay dividends in the next 18 months because guys now have a taste of Test match rugby, they know what it is like and what they need to do to perform at this level and that all builds the quality and the competition within the squad, which makes us a bit better on the field.

“The disappointing thing has been our results, we have not won as many trophies as we would have liked to in the last 18 months but hopefully now as a squad, we are building and gelling.”



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