Bernard Foley admits Australia’s under-performing halves and goalkickers must step up for the Wallabies to have any hope of winning a third Rugby World Cup.
A relieved Foley and the enigmatic Quade Cooper were the only two specialist five-eighths included in Australia’s 31-man touring squad, with coach Michael Cheika also opting for just two halfbacks in Nick Phipps and Will Genia.
Versatile playmaker Matt Giteau will serve as back-up for both key positions, while Matt Toomua and Kurtley Beale are also options to wear the gold No.10 jumper during the seven-week tournament kicking off on September 18 in Britain.
Regardless who Cheika and attack coach Stephen Larkham use for the crunch games, Foley says it’s imperative the Wallabies playmakers lift after some underwhelming showings during the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup series.
“You look at all the World Cups and they’re won by the quality halves,” Foley told AAP.
“So as a unit in this side, that’s definitely where we’re going to have to improve and get our game a lot stronger.”
Cheika used three combinations in Australia’s four domestic Tests, with Cooper and Genia, Australia’s most experience halves pairing, starting against South Africa and the NSW Waratahs’ Super Rugby-winning duo Foley and Phipps used in victories over Argentina and New Zealand.
Nic White was overlooked for the World Cup after he and Cooper failed to fire in the Wallabies’ 41-13 loss to the All Blacks in the Bledisloe Cup decider in Auckland.
Foley knows the heat is on, but is confident the Wallabies’ gamebreakers can deliver and says he’s happy teaming with either Phipps or Genia.
But having never started a Test with Genia, there’s no doubting Foley is more comfortable partnering Phipps, his long-time Waratahs teammate and housemate.
“I’ve spent a lot of time playing with Nick especially and he’s a very crafty half, a very smart thinker about the game,” he said.
“He’s had some valuable experience in that jersey now, so it’s exciting to play with either Nick or Will.”
Despite tinkering with his starting side throughout the winter, Cheika insists he has a clear idea what his first-choice Test side is.
Foley and fullback Israel Folau, one of only five Wallabies to start in all four Tests so far in 2015, say they have no idea what Cheika’s halves pecking order is.
“Cheik leaves a lot of his cards close to his chest and I think it’s the way it should be,” Foley said.
“We’re going to have to train for three weeks with intensity at the training camp before we get to England and it’s just great to be in the squad and now I’ve got to perform every day.”
Foley knows he needs to perform with the boot as well.
The pivot’s ice-cool strike rate has dipped from above 80 per cent last year to around two in three in 2015, with Australia’s goalkicking ratio collectively no better.
White’s World Cup omission has compounded the problem after he slotted two from two, including a penalty from almost halfway, against the All Blacks, leaving the onus on Foley, Cooper, Giteau and Beale.
“Most of the World Cups have come down to a kick, haven’t they?” Foley said.
“I’ve been doing a fair but of kicking in my time off, as all the kickers have, after training.
“Even on days off we’re all kicking and we’ll be extremely confident that we’ve got the processes right and that we’ve done all the practice and got all the bases covered come game time.”