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Waratahs’ back looks to the future

Richard Withers talks with Sydney University’s Bernard Foley about his rugby sevens career and breakout season with the Waratahs

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One of the few causes for optimism emanating from a grim, injury-ravaged season of Super 15 Rugby for the NSW Waratahs was the performance of pacey utility back Bernard Foley.

After being rushed into the Waratahs squad for last year’s preliminary final against the Blues in Auckland, the talented playmaker impressed the NSW coaching staff over the summer before cementing a spot in the backline in 2012. This was no small achievement considering Foley was playing in a backline consisting of Australian stars Adam Ashley-Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Rob Horne, Drew Mitchell and Lachie Turner.

Foley’s success during a difficult year for the Waratahs culminated in the 23-year-old’s selection in the 39-man Wallabies squad for the June tests against Scotland and Wales. It capped a meteoric rise for the former captain of Australia’s rugby sevens team, who while relishing the opportunity to represent NSW, hasn’t lost sight of his sevens background.

“In the past, the sevens has primarily been a development route for a lot of up-and-coming players. You hope that the sevens does put you in good stead, but you’ll never assume it’s going to lead to anything. To make my debut off the back of the sevens was a massive surprise and something I never thought was going to happen,” he says.

Before stamping his presence on the game with the Waratahs, Foley won a silver medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

“It was an amazing experience, to be a part of the wider Australian team in a tournament like the Commonwealth Games was something really special. To go to a place like India… was a great experience for me personally, and to be in the athlete’s village and to mingle with so many different types of athletes from all different sports and disciplines was eye-opening. It’s great to see how different people prepare. To be fortunate enough to win a silver medal was a dream come true.”

Proponents of the shortened rugby format will be excited by news that the sport will feature at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

“Watching this last Olympics and going to the Commonwealth Games, you get itchy feet about hopefully making it to Rio for the Olympics Games. Any athlete will tell you that going to the Olympic Games and being an Olympian is probably the pinnacle, but in the 15’s game there is still a lot to achieve, you want to be a Wallaby, to win the World Cup and the Bledisloe Cup would be the ultimate.”

At a time in which Foley is quickly rising through the ranks, four years feels a long way off.

“I’m lucky I don’t have to make that decision yet…in the future it might be made for me if my body isn’t holding up for it, or if I’m not suited to it. It’s still a while off, but it may be something that people will have to consider…whether they choose one or the other,” he says.

In the time being, Foley is focused on his recovery from a post-season shoulder operation and preparing himself for what the Waratahs will hope is a more memorable 2013 season. In his recuperation, Foley is studying a Bachelor of Economics full-time at Sydney University and watching his USyd teammates from the stands. Although clearly desperate to get back out on the paddock, Foley recognises the values of juggling rugby with study commitments.

“I find studying so beneficial because it gives you a release and something to focus on outside of rugby, the study is a good balance and something I enjoy doing while still playing rugby,” he says.

It’s a taste of what it takes to play for the Wallabies in the June training camp that has inspired Foley to go one step further next year as he approaches the 2013 Waratahs season with renewed vigour.

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“To be called up was a big surprise and it was great to be in and amongst the team and to see the intensity lift and the experience of everyone come together to play in those series and to play so well and cleansweep the Welsh. Just getting a taste of that has driven me and given me a lot of hunger now to want to be at that level.”

A positional change is also on the cards for Foley, who started at five-eight in the penultimate game this year against the Brumbies in Sydney.

“I really enjoy playing at fullback, but to play at five-eighth is the position that I probably see myself at more than fullback…if it’s in line with the team’s thinking, I’d love to be at five-eighth moving forward. If you can stay at five-eight for a few games, once you string them together you can get comfortable and feel like you’re the man for the job.”

With Waratahs fans enduring eight consecutive losses to end the season, I ask Bernard if there is a silver lining to a tough 2012.

“Once you do have a rough season and you’ve experienced the lows, it makes everyone a lot more determined and hungrier to do things differently. Everyone will come back with a point to prove, and they’ll come back fitter and wiser and looking to do a lot better.”

All eyes will be on an under-pressure Waratahs outfit as they look to defy last season’s critics with a strong start to the 2013 season.

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