Under-rated no longer, five-eighth Bernard Foley looms as the Wallabies X-factor in the Rugby World Cup knockout stages, with revealing statistics pegged him as the third most lethal sharpshooter left.
Tries are expected to be at a premium as the World Cup’s heavyweight teams go head to head in a tournament where ever-improving defences have been dominant.
Going into the weekend’s quarter-finals, the importance of goalkickers soars and Foley is the man who can give Australia an vital edge.
Under the tutelage of new Wallabies kicking coach Chris Malone, he has become one of the most reliable in the business.
Foley enjoyed a breakout game against England, in which he crossed for two tries and kicked seven from seven for a personal haul of 28 points.
But it simply highlighted what the Wallabies already knew and Foley backed it up with another terrific display with the boot against Wales, kicking his first five penalty attempts before botching his final shot with the result assured.
According to goalkicking analysts goalkickers.co.za – who rate the performances of all kickers based on the difficulty of their attempts – Foley’s has made marked progress in the past two years.
The rating system is based on the difficulty of each kick, which is defined by factors such as the distance, angle and game situation in which the kick is taken.
In 2014, Foley was ranked 51st of all kickers in the Super Rugby despite guiding the NSW Waratahs to a maiden title – kicking at a percentage of 77.2 but with a rating of 4.68.
Through the pool stages of the World Cup, he’s missed just two of 19 attempts and has been awarded a kicker rating of 6.08.
Only Wales’ Dan Biggar (15 from 16) and France’s Morgan Parra (six from six) have better ratings of players from teams which reached the quarter-finals.
Notably, champion All Blacks five-eighth Dan Carter is no longer knocking them over with laser-like precision – and is ranked ninth of the remaining kickers, with a rating of 5.43 after missing four of his 20 attempts to date.
Having watched him kick them to victories in consecutive weeks, the Wallabies have complete faith in their No.10.
“I watch him train. I watch how much work the kickers do on the park to get to that position,” said Wallabies vice-captain Michael Hooper.
“It is no fluke they are out there kicking goals and kicking well. It is a lot of hard work.
“They are the last guys out on the field often, so it’s good they get that praise and they deserve it because it is a job that is very difficult.
“It’s pleasing because every team has a great kicker and it is hugely important to have one in your side.”
Top five kickers left at the Rugby World Cup
1. Dan Biggar (Wales) 15 out of 16 (93.8 per cent). Kicker rating: 7.6
2. Morgan Parra (France) 6 out of 6 (100 per cent). Kicker rating: 10
3. Bernard Foley (Australia) 17 out of 19 (93.8 per cent). Rating: 6.08
4. Handre Pollard (South Africa) 17 out of 22 (77.3 per cent). Rating: 5.38
5. Nicholas Sanchez (Argentina) 17 out of 20 (85 per cent) Rating: 6.23