Foley steered the Kubota Spears to a title in the Japanese League One competition on Saturday, downing a Panasonic team coached by Robbie Deans and featuring Koroibete. The 76-Test Wallaby kicked 12 points in the 17-15 grand final win, having scored 16 points in the semi-final and finishing as the competition’s top points scorer.
A few hours later, Skelton was again a powerhouse in the La Rochelle forward pack as the French team won a second consecutive European Cup title over Irish giants Leinster. It continued a run of incredible success for Skelton since he left Australia in 2017.
But shoehorning both into the three spots – which most assume are going to Cooper, Kerevi and Koroibete – is a giant headache. All five have compelling cases.
Koroibete is the first name on a team sheet, enough said. Cooper and Kerevi are both returning from long-term injuries but the former proved to be a standout game manager in 2021 and Kerevi is a power athlete without Australian peer. His ability to ride contact and offload is world class.
But World Cups are about pressure and set-piece strength, and Skelton’s size and physicality would be a huge asset to the Wallabies pack in tournament rugby. Picture his weight at tight-head lock, behind Taniela Tupou or Allan Alaalatoa. Skelton is no lineout forward but the driving maul is rugby’s biggest battleground these days, and it’s here where Skelton creates havoc.
Skelton has played six Tests in the past two years, but was strangely underused as a last-quarter reserve in five of them.
Foley’s case? Setting aside his record as an experienced playmaker who almost helped the Wallabies take down France and Ireland last year, Foley is already proven as an exponent of one of the most crucial weapons needed to win a World Cup – goal-kicking.
Without fail, a deadly goalkicker is at the forefront of every Rugby World Cup win. Matt Burke kicked 49 of Australia’s 62 points in the semi and final of the 1999 World Cup.
In the World Cup games he played in 2015, Foley scored 82 points of Australia’s 157 points, including 28 points against England, and all 15 against Wales. Last year, in his return to the Test side, Foley kicked 21 of 23 goals attempted.
Jones, then, may need to ask for a few more Giteau Law picks. The Wallabies coach flagged early it would be a discussion he’d have with Rugby Australia closer to the World Cup.
Informed sources say those discussions haven’t kicked off yet but with the Japanese season over, and France almost done, too, the repatriation of players will soon begin. The Rugby Championship is six weeks away.
Some RA powerbrokers are worried about the side effects of the Giteau Law flexing too much for major events, which could signal to local players they can take overseas cash and still be confident about Wallabies selection. It won’t keep players at home, goes the argument.
But the counterargument is nothing inspires new generations to play the game than the buzz created by a World Cup victory.
It’s safe to say Jones will find a degree of flexibility from Rugby Australia, if and when he asks for it. Of all people, he won’t have forgotten Hamish McLennan’s comment at his opening press conference: “Eddie will get whatever he wants”.
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