Returning Wallaby Bernard Foley is heeding the lessons of the 2019 Rugby World Cup as he looks to lead a new generation of players from a similar path.
Foley remained in Japan after their quarter-final exit to England, plying his trade in Top League with Kubota Spears.
The 32-year-old had accepted his International career could be over, despite qualifying under old Giteau law criteria before chats begin with coach Dave Rennie last year.
Whilst he initially knocked back Rennie’s advance, it allowed him to reflect on his own career, ‘liting the fire again’ for a return in time for the Tests against the Springboks in Adelaide and Sydney.
“Dave and I first spoke after the French series and we had a really good, open chat about whether that was the right timing or somewhere else down the line and for me personally, it wasn’t the right to come in given I was coming back from overseas and bubble and having some family stuff. It probably wasn’t the right time and wasn’t in the right mindset,” he told reporters.
“It gave me time to reflect and really dive down into what I personally needed, lit the fire again about coming back in. We had open chats for the rest of (2021) and this season so to have that call-up and chat three weeks ago, I was eager and jumped at the opportunity.
“I’d always hoped and thought about it but I never thought the opportunity would come up again, especially leaving and going overseas knowing the eligibility had the ability to change, I had to be content with not getting the opportunity again when I left in 2019.
“To now get the opportunity to be back in the squad and wear the colours, I’m pretty grateful and excited to get that second opportunity.”
Not only did he reflect on his career, Foley took the time to understand where it went wrong in 2019.
It provides a unique position in a squad lacking older heads due to injury and withdrawals, urging them to embrace the moment.
“I think we were in a place where we cared too much,” he reflected. “We tried to force it too much and tried too hard to change the outcomes and go in there and have an unbelievable tournament.
“I suppose that’s where the intent and purpose was alright but the exception and how we carried it out, we weren’t able to circuit-break ourselves enough through those couple of years leading up into the World Cup.
“That’s what I’m enjoying about being in here and really understanding there’s only a finite time in this jersey and in this program, doing what we get to do so to make the most of it and enjoy it.
“That’s what I’m trying to tell a guy like Langi (Gleeson), it is a finite amount of time you get to spend in these programs so make the most of every day.”
From the outside looking in, there are clear comparisons to be made between 2019 and 2022 within the halves department as the Wallabies struggle for stability.
In the first three Tests of 2019, then coach Michael Chieka went with three different halves combinations before appearing to settle on a Nic White-Christian Leali’ifano combination ahead of the World Cup.
However, this changed throughout the tournament as the combo of White, Leali’ifano, Foley and Will Genia were slotted and changed until their ugly exit to England.
Whilst White has remained a constant figure over the past 12 months, Rennie has experimented with Noah Lolesio, James O’Connor and Quade Cooper.
Cooper was the frontrunner before injury and a Spring Tour withdrawal left O’Connor and Lolesio battling for positions.
Lolesio was preferred for England, then replaced by the Reds playmaker, with the experienced O’Connor now out of the squad completely.
Despite this, Foley believes it’s in a much better position than three years ago, excited to add to the ‘healthy’ competition.
“Combinations and time together builds better relationships and creates that understanding, I think 2019 it was completely different from what we have now,” Foley explained.
“The intention and the purpose was right back then just the execution and game plan (wasn’t). I think what we are working with today is competition for spots is a healthy thing within teams. You want guys to drive but coming in and seeing here for one day, everyone is working with each other to get a better outcome and product.
“That’s the exciting thing from the short time I’ve been here is looking to add to that.”
Foley has kept fit after the end of the Japanese season, training with the Waratahs alongside the next generation of halves in Ben Donaldson and Tane Edmed.
He also took the chance to praise Lolesio for his outlook, despite the young half finding himself constantly in and out of the side.
The two barely got a chance to cross paths before Foley’s departure but the Brumbies’ confidence and control is something that has instantly impressed the 71-Test veteran.
“How we can develop these young guys now is really exciting,” he believes.
“I’ve done some work with Benny Donaldson and Tane Edmed, now in here with Noah, I’m really excited because I see these guys as immensely talented. They have the composure, mentality and the Rugby IQ to run teams, they just need the time in the saddle to really understand and master their craft.
“It’s difficult just being young in this environment but I’ve been really impressed with (Noah) coming in and meeting him, just how composed and confident he is. I don’t think it’s been knocked around, I think he’s a guy who can come in and call the shots. I’m excited to be working with him and seeing how he sees the game and will run it.”
Aki Banned For Eight Weeks
Aki will be unavailable for the westerners’ next five URC games, including the derby clashes with Munster and Leinster, and will also miss at least the first two of Ireland’s Autumn Nations Series fixtures.
He will definitely be absent for the Tests against South Africa and Fiji, but could return to face Australia on Saturday, November 19 if he ‘successfully completes the Head Contact Process Coaching Intervention programme’.
After an act of foul play against Stormers winger Seabelo Senatla, referee Gianluca Gnecchi showed Aki a red card in the 60th minute of the game under law 9.20(a).
The particular law states that a player must not charge into a ruck or maul. Charging includes any contact made without binding onto another player in the ruck or maul.
In his responses to the judicial officer overseeing the disciplinary process (Pamela Woodman from Scotland), Aki had accepted that he had committed an act of foul play which warranted a red card.
She determined that his actions towards Senatla were reckless and took into account, among other things, the speed, force and high degree of danger in his actions.
Ms. Woodman determined that, had it been based on this conduct alone, the offending would have been categorised as mid-range on the scale of seriousness.
However, she also considered Aki’s actions and demeanour towards the referee in connection with the issue of the red card, which she found did not meet the expected standards of conduct or respect.
This was also taken into account (in accordance with URC’s disciplinary rules) in determining that his offending was at the top-end on the scale of seriousness, which warranted an entry point sanction of 10 weeks.
The judicial officer then considered if there were any mitigating factors and found that Aki’s acceptance that he had committed an act of foul play (during the off-field disciplinary process), expression of remorse, apologies to both the opposing player and referee, and willingness to engage with his provincial coaching staff on a plan to address this issue, were relevant mitigating factors.
These mitigating factors warranted a reduction in the sanction of four weeks.
Aki’s previous suspensions for red cards in 2019 and 2021 for foul play involving head contact, as well as his suspension and warning for previous conduct relating to interactions with referees, were considered aggravating factors, which the judicial officer decided warranted a further two weeks of sanction.
As a result, the Ireland international will be suspended for a period of eight weeks. As previously stated, should he complete the Coaching Intervention programme then the sanction will be reduced by one week.
Fixtures Bundee Aki is unavailable for:
Vodacom Bulls v Connacht, September 30, BKT URC
Connacht v Munster, October 7, BKT URC
Connacht v Leinster, October 14, BKT URC
Connacht v Scarlets, October 21, BKT URC
Ospreys v Connacht, October 29, BKT URC
Ireland v South Africa, November 5, Autumn Nations Series
Ireland v Fiji, November 12, Autumn Nations Series
Ireland v Australia, November 19, Autumn Nations Series (substituted if the player successfully completes the Head Contact Process Coaching Intervention programme)
Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography
Jones names squad for training camp
England will begin preparations for their four home Autumn Nations Series fixtures in November during the camp. The squad will meet in Richmond on Sunday 2 October and train at Twickenham Stadium.
First call-ups for camp include Northampton Saints’ Alex Coles and Saracens’ Hugh Tizard, both players having previously appeared for England U20s.
Manu Tuilagi and Sam Simmonds are back in the squad following injury and there are returns for Ben Youngs, Alex Mitchell, Tom Pearson and David Ribbans.
England face Argentina in the first of their four matches at Twickenham Stadium on Sunday 6 November (2.15pm KO). They will then host Japan on Saturday 12 November (3.15pm KO), followed by New Zealand on Saturday 19 November (5.30pm KO). Their final match is against South Africa on Saturday 26 November (5.30pm KO).
“With a year to go to the Rugby World Cup, this is a big opportunity for players to come in and impress,” said Jones. “We want them to show real energy and enthusiasm and that they want to be a part of this massive year.
“It doesn’t mean that those who have been left out won’t be considered for the Autumn Nations Series matches. We’ll be looking at club games, form and fitness and the door is left open for those players.
“We finished the Australia tour well. It was a fantastic experience, particularly for the younger players. We now have to start again, but we’ll build on what we’ve done there and continue that momentum.”
Ollie Chessum (Leicester Tigers, 5 caps)
Alex Coles (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 37 caps)
Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 41 caps)
Ellis Genge (Bristol Bears, 39 caps)
Jamie George (Saracens, 69 caps)
Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers, 5 caps)
Jonny Hill (Sale Sharks, 15 caps)
Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints, 14 caps)
Tom Pearson (London Irish, uncapped)
David Ribbans (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks, 2 caps)
Patrick Schickerling (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped)
Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, 14 caps)
Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 23 caps)
Hugh Tizard (Saracens, uncapped)
Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 64 caps)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 70 caps)
Jack Walker (Harlequins, uncapped)
Jack Willis (Wasps, 4 caps)
Henry Arundell (London Irish, 3 caps)
Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby, 12 caps)
Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
Owen Farrell (Saracens, 97 caps)
Tommy Freeman (Northampton Saints, 2 caps)
George Furbank (Northampton Saints, 6 caps)
Will Joseph (London Irish, 1 cap)
Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 69 caps)
Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints, 1 cap)
Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, 42 caps)
Guy Porter (Leicester Tigers, 2 caps)
Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 13 caps)
Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 13 caps)
Manu Tuilagi (Sale Sharks, 46 caps)
Jack van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers, 3 caps)
Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 117 caps)
Unavailable for selection due to injury: Alfie Barbeary, Nic Dolly, Alex Dombrandt, Charlie Ewels, George Ford, Sam Jeffries, Maro Itoje, Nick Isiekwe, Courtney Lawes, Sam Underhill, Anthony Watson.
New governance structure agreed for rugby in Scotland
Scottish Rugby President Colin Rigby hailed a “significant milestone” for the game in Scotland when member clubs agreed a new governance structure at an online special general meeting last night.
The new structure, based on the recommendations on the Standing Committee on Governance (SCOG), sees the new Scottish Rugby Union (a company limited by guarantee) take on the responsibility for the oversight of the organisation’s main operating vehicle, Scottish Rugby.
It also will provide an oversight function to the organisation’s members.
Professor Lorne Crerar CBE, Interim Chair of the new Scottish Rugby Union, pledged to the SGM that “all the promises for a new, well-functioning governance system will absolutely be delivered.”
Professor Crerar also called on the membership to play its part in finding the “very best talent” to serve as “custodians” on the new company’s board.
Colin Rigby thanked members, SCOG, the Scottish Rugby Council and Scottish Rugby’s employees for their patience, while the new structure was arrived at.
He added: “This is a significant milestone in the history of the Scottish Rugby Union where all stakeholders now have clarity around governance, roles and responsibility.”
John Jeffrey remains chairman of the Scottish Rugby Board which will continue to oversee the day-to-day operational, commercial and executive functions of Scottish Rugby.
Earlier tonight, members voted unanimously to receive Scottish Rugby’s financial statements for 2021-22 at the second part of the organisation’s AGM.
During the period, overall revenue returned to within 5% of pre-pandemic levels at £57.9million, a rise of £5.5million from the previous year.
The accounts showed a deficit of £5.3 million on the base business, while the strategic investment from private equity partners CVC drove a gain on disposal of investment of £34.2million, bringing Scottish Rugby’s net surplus after tax to £29million for the year.
Images & Content – Scotland Rugby
Aki Banned For Eight Weeks
Jones names squad for training camp
New governance structure agreed for rugby in Scotland
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