Star playmaker Bernard Foley will hand-pick his preferred backline if – as expected – he’s cleared to make his long-awaited return for the NSW Waratahs on Sunday.
After a ho-hum 1-2 start to their Super Rugby campaign, the Waratahs are desperate to have Foley back from injury for their derby against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.
The Wallabies five-eighth trained strongly with the team on Tuesday and, more importantly, completed the full-contact session without reporting any discomfort following a month on the sidelines nursing a shoulder problem.
Assistant coach Chris Malone is refusing to blame Foley’s absence for NSW’s spluttering start to the year, but admits the ice-cool No.10’s expected comeback – for his first Super Rugby game this season – is a huge boost.
“Bernard’s a proven match-winner and a level head and can guide the team well, so it will be good to have him back,” Malone said.
The backs coach pointed out that although Kurtley Beale had done a competent job filling in at fly-half, Foley hadn’t missed a single game in three seasons before this year.
“So everyone’s comfortable also with him there,” he said.
“We’re lucky that it (injury striking Foley) didn’t happen over the last few years.”
Foley’s return poses somewhat of a selection headache for head coach Daryl Gibson, but Malone conceded the final make-up of the Waratahs’ backline would depend largely on who Foley wanted around him.
“If Bernard came back in, what would he feel most comfortable with – they’re the things you’re tossing up,” Malone said.
“What’s the team going to be most comfortable with? What’s the bold decision to make, or what are the bold moves?
“But we’ve got options.”
The most likely option is Beale returning to inside centre at the expense of David Horwitz and partnering Rob Horne in the midfield.
Foley’s partnership with Beale was pivotal during the Waratahs’ charge to the title in 2014 and in last year’s run to the semi-finals.
Regardless of the make-up of the NSW backline, Malone is demanding better execution across the park than what the Waratahs delivered in last Friday night’s 30-26 loss to the Highlanders.
The Waratahs trailed 30-0 at one point in a performance Malone described as “just a bumbling frustration”.
“If you get the ball thrown to you, you catch it,” he said.
“You take the ball into contact, it comes back out to us, not to them.
“We’ve got to stick with the Tahs identity, but we can be smarter.”