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Cork-connected Wallabies out-half Foley lauds Cheika's influence

The former Leinster head coach has brought his squad together despite a period of transition.

Murray Kinsella reports from Surfers Paradise

WALLABIES OUT-HALF Bernard Foley’s surname is something of a giveaway, although his Irish ancestry is distant enough that Saturday’s Test against Ireland in Brisbane won’t hold any particular additional meaning other than being a huge game for the Wallabies.

RUGBY WALLABIES TRAINING Foley with Israel Folau at Wallabies training this week. Source: AAP/PA Images

Foley’s connection to Ireland goes back to his great-grandparents, he reckons, but the real expert on the family tree is his dad.

“My father loves history, he has a passion for that sort of thing,” explains Foley. “So when I played in Ireland before, I went down to Cork to meet up with some of my distant, distant relatives as well as some friends I know down there.”

Foley has played against Ireland twice before and lost both of those Dublin-hosted games, a 27-24 defeat in 2016 and a 26-23 loss in 2014.

The narrow margin of those Ireland wins may provide us with some clue as to what is to come in this month’s Test series, even if Joe Schmidt’s team arrived in Australia with major confidence after their Grand Slam in March.

“Ireland have always been a force in my mind,” says Foley. “Growing up, watching them, especially when they had the likes of Ronan O’Gara, Brian O’Driscoll, Keith Wood, those guys, especially in 2002 when you beat us, and 2003 when the World Cup was on and there was that great game.

“They have always been considered a dominant team for us, always viewed as an inventive, creative side, which is a real credit to them.

“So I have always considered them dangerous and you know, their hard work has paid off in the last couple of years with what they have achieved – that win over the All Blacks, the Grand Slam, and also with Leinster being European champions, it all reaffirms how good a rugby country Ireland is.”

Bernard Foley dejected after being yellow carded late in the game Foley in 2016 during the defeat to Ireland in Dublin. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

While Ireland have been enjoying sustained success this season under Schmidt, the Wallabies’s hit-and-miss form since the 2015 World Cup – when they were beaten by New Zealand in the final – has continued.

Australia have secured just 13 wins in their 29 Tests since the 2015 World Cup, although Foley is keen to point out that the squad has been in a state of transition, with head coach Michael Cheika handing out first caps to 27 players.

The out-half’s belief is that Australia will be rewarded over the next 18 months for their efforts to blood new players and his hope is that it will start with a series success over Ireland.

The Wallabies pride themselves on being a squad that brings together players from many different cultures, including Aboriginal player Kurtley Beale, Fiji-born stars like Tevita Kuridrani and Marika Koroibete, and European-descended men like Foley.

Ex-Leinster boss Cheika, with his strong understanding of the importance of culture, remains the ideal figurehead for bringing all the pieces together.

“What he is able to do is to get everyone in the squad to buy into one purpose, one direction,” explains Waratahs playmaker Foley.

“He is very smart tactically and technically as a coach but he is also very good at gelling his squad together, just allowing guys to be themselves but also to be part of a greater purpose.

RUGBY WALLABIES TRAINING Cheika leads the Wallabies in training earlier this week. Source: AAP/PA Images

“I have had a lot to do with Cheiks with the Waratahs and now the Wallabies. His ability to change firstly the Waratahs’ perception – we were underachievers at times, maybe a bit like Leinster – was impressive, and he has followed that up with his success here.

“That comes, number one, from ensuring guys work hard and, number two, getting the fundamentals right where you believe in each other, work for each other, and bond from individuals into a team.”

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Murray Kinsella

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