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Foley returns at No.10 as Rennie hopes for a Quade-like impact in Bledisloe opener

Bernard Foley will become the fourth player to start in the Wallabies No.10 jersey in five matches of The Rugby Championship when he makes his return from the Test wilderness against the All Blacks on Thursday.

With Noah Lolesio failing to show he’s fit again after a head knock, Foley will play his 72nd Test match, almost three years since his 71st – the loss to Wales at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie will be hoping Foley, 33 last Thursday, can have the same impact provided by fellow veteran Quade Cooper against South Africa a year ago.

Cooper started this TRC campaign after being injured for the England series only to rupture his Achilles in the opener against Argentina. Reece Hodge played out that game with a steady hand at flyhalf but James O’Connor was picked for game two and paid the price for the Wallabies’ heavy loss, losing his place in the squad altogether.

While Lolesio was impressive in the win over South Africa in Adelaide, he was forced off 54 minutes into the second game and despite a 12-day turn around has failed to overcome concussion symptoms.

There remains serious doubt over Hunter Paisami, who also suffered a more significant head knock than Lolesio’s, and Taniela Tupou, who was hurt while warming up and failed to get on the field for the Sydney loss.

Bernard Foley and Folau Fainga'a during an Australia Wallabies training session at Sanctuary Cove on September 01, 2022 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Bernard Foley and Folau Fainga’a. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

While Rennie was able to name an unchanged team for the first time as Wallabies coach in Sydney there could be wholesale changes for this match when the 23 is named around midday Tuesday.

Foley, who plays his club rugby in Japan, has been in the camp since the start of the campaign but this is his first involvement in the 23.

Wallabies assistant coach Dan McKellar said: “He’s been a good fit since he’s come back. I enjoyed meeting him and getting to know him. He’s a good man, a good team man. And he helped us prepare really well in those first couple of weeks since he’s been back.”

Foley revealed last month that he knocked back an approach from Rennie last year.

“We had a really good conversation, open chat, about whether that was the right timing or somewhere else down the line,” Foley said.

“For me, just coming back from overseas, being in bubbles, and having a bit of family stuff meant it was probably not the right time and I wasn’t probably in the right mindset. But it gave me time to reflect and dive down to what I needed and lit the fire again about coming in.”

On why he changed his mind, Foley said: “Whether it was an ego thing or whether it was something that was really driving that ambition inside me to come in and reflect on when I was in here before and how I’d do things differently, and where I’ve learned and grown – to come back and really add to the team. The time is right now.

“I suppose I always hoped and thought about it, but I never thought the opportunity would come back up, especially leaving, going overseas and knowing that the eligibility laws have the ability to change.

“I had to be content with not getting the opportunity again when I left in 2019 so to now get the opportunity to be back here in the squad and get to wear the colours … I’m grateful and excited about having that second opportunity.

“Experiences over there have hopefully allowed me to see a more worldly game and how other teams and other players approach the game and their trends and objectives in how they play footy.”

McKellar meanwhile said Tupou was still a chance to be named, but it appeared to be more a case of not wanting to give away intel to the Kiwis than saying it with any real conviction.

“Like with most players these days, in particular around soft tissue if you’re not 100%, then it’s a risk and obviously he’s got history there,” McKellar said of Tupou’s ongoing calf issues.

“He’s tracking pretty well and looks good. And he’s worked hard over the three or four days that we had off so hopefully he gets up.”

Meanwhile, McKellar said Australia had spent time this week trying to get to the bottom of their breakdown issues against the Springboks in a bid to not suffer the same fate against New Zealand.

“The reality is that we’ve struggled to put together good performances back to back and we’ve had a really good look at that this week – we’ve thoroughly reviewed,” McKellar said.

“We understand the All Blacks are coming off a really good performance against the Argentinians, they were totally dominant in all areas and will take a lot of confidence out of that.

“We’ve just got to get our strategy and tactics right in terms of how we think we’ll beat them and then make sure we train it well and that gives us a chance.

“As a coaching group, we looked really hard at how we prepared them for the second Test against South Africa and did we get it right, so it’s certainly been very thorough and very honest,” the ex-Brumbies coach said. 

“I can’t sit here and give you one thing – one silver bullet – but it’s something that if you want to win a Bledisloe Cup or Rugby Championship, someone’s got to go back to back over the next couple of weeks. 

“And obviously that leads in to the next year when there’s a bigger prize (World Cup) available as well.”

The breakdown is an issue and the Wallabies have been the weakest of the four teams in the area.

“We were beaten around the breakdown there’s no doubt and so it’s an area that we will continue to focus heavily on.

“Our ball carrying, our clean-out work, we turned over possession off first phase, which is very unlike us,” McKellar said of the issues..

“You can have the grandest plans about how you want to attack … but if you don’t win that area of the game then you struggle.

“If we dish up what we did in Sydney, then the All Blacks will hurt us.”

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