Key player: Bernard Foley. Photo: Stuart WalmsleyRWC Schedule: When is the Rugby World Cup final?Full coverage of the 2015 Rugby World Cup
LONDON: Bernard Foley got up in the middle of the night 16 years ago to watch the Wallabies win the World Cup and spark the inspiration for his rugby career.
He remembers the tired eyes, the late nights and the moment John Eales lifted the Webb Ellis Cup after the Wallabies beat France in the final. Now he wants to give the same memories to a new generation as he chases his own slice of World Cup history in a blockbuster final against New Zealand.
Fans in will have to wake up at 3am on Sunday to see the Wallabies go for glory against the defending champion All Blacks. That has not been lost in the World Cup bubble, with players making a point to acknowledge the supporter base back home.
“I think this will be the highlight of my rugby career,” Foley said. “It’s something I’ll look back on and as a kid when I was growing up during that 1999 World Cup, I was really inspired by the Wallabies. I got up in the middle of the night to watch those games. For me, it’s replicating that and hopefully I can inspire 12 year olds to get up, get them excited to watch the Wallabies and be passionate.”
The battered and bruised Wallabies are rising again for their moment to shine in the World Cup spotlight. New Zealand are favourites to take the title and farewell greats Richie McCaw and Dan Carter with a perfect Test send off.
But the Wallabies want to spoil the party, and while has struggled in Bledisloe Cup matches for more than a decade, there’s a contingent of players who know what it’s like to spoil a Kiwi party.
The NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds beat McCaw and Carter’s Canterbury Crusaders in the 2014 and 2011 Super Rugby finals respectively.
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika was in charge of the Waratahs when Foley booted a last-minute penalty to break Crusaders hearts last year. “You can draw on those big games for sure and it’s great to win those, but you can’t really compare that to this week or the momentum,” Foley said. “What we’ve done as a side here has been great, we’ve really enjoyed it and what we’re trying to do is be really proud to go out there and put on a display for all the ns getting up in the middle of the night, the ones making a late dash here or the expats that are here already. I don’t think you can compare the two games, [but] you can take confidence that you’ve been in those games before but this is a new magnitude.”
Foley said the Wallabies were “battle ready” after a road to the final which has included wins against England, Wales, Scotland and Argentina. Most of those games have gone down to the dying minutes, with the exception of a Foley-inspired 20-point drubbing of England.
In contrast the All Blacks cruised through their group stages with easy wins against Georgia, Namibia and Tonga before belting France in the quarter-final. “As a side we’ve always had a great belief in our preparation and groundwork … putting that in place during games, the belief definitely grows,” Foley said. “We can draw on those challenges and times we’ve had in games when we start to face it again on Saturday. You can’t count on past wins or losses to help you.”
Foley joked that Wallabies attack coach Stephen Larkham had been showing replays of his 1999 semi-final winning drop-goal, as well as highlights from a 102-Test career, in team meetings. Sixteen years ago then Wallabies assistant coach Tim Lane pulled Larkham aside before extra-time and told him to take a drop goal attempt if the opportunity came up.
The result was a kick etched in history and the moment that spurred the Wallabies to World Cup glory.
Foley has scored 75 points in his five World Cup games and it’s not lost on him that his kicking moment could come against the All Blacks.
“[Larkham] hasn’t spoken about that in depth. It just comes down to the context of the game and as a playing unit out on the field, we will talk about it,” he said. “If the time is right to hit a field goal, we will take that opportunity.”