Bernard Foley is the right man for the Wallabies No. 10 jersey as the fight for the playmaking role begins to heat up.
That’s the verdict according to Australian-born former Scotland first-five Dan Parks, who believes the incumbent Wallabies pivot has the advantage over rival fly-half Quade Cooper.
Foley has established himself as a firm favourite within the Wallabies set-up since head coach Michael Cheika took charge of the Australian national side from the Waratahs in late 2014, starting in 59 of his 68 test appearances since his international debut in 2013.
Foley’s stranglehold over the Australian No. 10 jersey was strengthened last year when Cooper was shut out of Super Rugby by Reds head coach Brad Thorn, who refused to play the controversial yet mercurial 30-year-old.
His exclusion from the Queensland squad had a flow on effect to the national side, with a season of club rugby in Brisbane making it impossible for Cheika to select the 70-test veteran – who hasn’t featured internationally since November 2017 – for the Wallabies.
However, after a transfer to the Rebels and some sparkling form that has helped propel the Melbourne-based franchise to an unbeaten start to Super Rugby, Cooper has been included in both of Cheika’s pre-World Cup training camps this year.
Cooper’s standout showings after reuniting with long-time halves partner Will Genia under the stewardship of new coach Dave Wessels in Victoria has reignited the debate regarding who should run the cutter for Australia leading into the World Cup, but 67-test Parks was under no illusions as to who he believes has the inside running.
“He’s proven at that level,” Parks told the Fox Rugby Podcast of Foley’s ability in test match rugby.
“I would certainly pick Foley at this stage.”
Parks was impressed with the flat offensive line that Cooper has been operating with at the Rebels, but said the composed and measured approach of Foley would better enhance the Wallabies’ chances of success.
“I’m really enjoying watching what Quade is doing with his depth alignment, but once teams figure out how they can stop that forward momentum, their [Rebels] game is non existent,” he said.
“Quade’s been out of the game, obviously at that level, for a long time, and I just like the way that Bernard plays, I just don’t see that he deserves not to be in the team.
“I know he’s had a slow start to the season, I think the weekend was better [in the win against the Reds].
“That’s my concern with the way Quade is playing so flat at the line, which I love, it’s fantastic — because he’s getting away with it.
“When the Rebels are looking good he’s getting that front foot ball, we mentioned Genia, he’s getting out and creating.
“They’ve got to be a bit tighter, they’ve got to hold their line until those passes go to Quade and with his depth it’s creating space.
“Certainly I’d be starting with Foley and if the ball keeps rolling with that confidence (for Cooper), then that might sway into the Test arena but not for now.”
Cheika preferred Foley as his primary first-five option over Cooper at the 2015 World Cup in England, starting the 29-year-old in all but one of the matches at that tournament, including every match in the knockout stages.
Other playmaking options that could challenge Foley and Cooper for the Wallabies No. 10 jersey include Brumbies skipper Christian Leali’ifano, incoming Rebels signing Matt Toomua, and utility backs Reece Hodge and Kurtley Beale, both of whom have been played experimentally at first-five by Cheika within the last 18 months.
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