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Tyro Wallabies halves combo gets nod for French Test series opener

Nic White and Bernard Foley pose for the cameras during Tuesday's announcement of the Wallabies team to take on France.

Nic White and Bernard Foley pose for the cameras during Tuesday's announcement of the Wallabies team to take on France. Photo: Getty Images

They have spent just six minutes on the field together in a Test match after struggling to be seen behind much bigger names in gold jerseys. 

But on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium, new Wallabies halves partners Nic White and Bernard Foley will step out from the shadows of Will Genia and Quade Cooper to steer the Wallabies around the park against an imposing France.

It is five-eighth Foley's first start and just his fifth Test, but a try and two conversions in the Wallabies' rousing 54-17 win against Argentina last year, plus a pivotal role in the Waratahs' climb to second in Super Rugby this season, ensured the former sevens player's name was at the forefront of Ewen McKenzie's mind all year. 

"He's a very talented player, I think he's had an outstanding season, so it wasn't a complicated exercise thinking that one through," the Wallabies coach said on Tuesday. 

"Even before Quade was injured it wasn't like Quade was [definitely] in – in every position we've looked at all the candidates and had really good options. [Foley] was well and truly in the mix, regardless of injuries."

Foley will also take responsibility for most of the goalkicking, while White will take the long-range shots and No.12 Matt Toomua to kick for touch.

White has played 10 Tests since his debut against the All Blacks in August but it is only his third start. The Brumbies halfback said his performances against Argentina and South Africa in the Rugby Championship last year had exposed his decision-making, particularly in the Wallabies' 28-8 loss in Cape Town. 

"They give you the responsibility out there to judge the game and maybe I didn't get that right and that's why I lost my spot [to Genia]," White said. "Since then I've worked on being able to read the game and I think I've found the balance. I learnt the hard way, but it's a lesson I had to have."

An honest exchange with McKenzie and attack coach Jim McKay, plus season-long tutelage under Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham and Test great George Gregan, has inspired White to career-best form in Canberra this year. 

He had stiff competition from NSW No.9 Nick Phipps, who was named as White's replacement on the bench, while the world-class spectre of Genia only returned with one round to spare at Suncorp Stadium last week. 

White said he appreciated McKenzie's willingness to back up talk about form with selection. 

"It's certainly encouraging and gives a lot of faith to a lot of players that when you go out there and play well, [McKenzie] will reward you for it," he said. 

As for their connection, the six minutes on ground together at Gigante de Arroyito in Rosario last year were fruitful if also brief. There was also a NSW Schools pairing in 2007, and McKenzie said there was time to learn on the go.

"You see us playing on the weekend but that's only one fifth of the time spent in combination, working together," he said.  

"I'm pleased with what I've seen in a short space of time, that adaptation process and the understanding and communication, all that's flowing pretty well.

"Obviously you need the pressure cooker of the Test match and we'll find out. It won't all be perfect, I can guarantee you that, but the attitude and the willingness at the moment in training has been outstanding."

Foley, who was selected ahead of NSW teammate Kurtley Beale, said he was delighted to have the opportunity to move his sparkling Super Rugby form into the main arena. 

"It was definitely a goal of mine at the start of the year ... you don't always want to be the filler, you want to cement your spot somewhere," he said.

4 comments so far

  • Mmm, Genia is a genius…and a big game player…so I'm not comfortable with Link throwing him out. Same happened when Deans threw Sharpe out. Big mistake. And what's this rubbish from Link about picking those who play closest to their potential???…you pick those who play better than others, pure and simple..

    Commenter
    one eye
    Location
    sydney
    Date and time
    June 04, 2014, 1:14AM
    • The back line looks a bit muddled to me , we have White a Brumby , Foley a Tut Tah , Toomua and Kuridrani Brumbies , ACC and Folou Tahs and Cummins Force . Six days to get together and bugger all between the players . Surly a combination at 9 and 10 . White / Toomua or Phipps / Foley would have made sense . If you want a mixture , then start with Genia who with a decent pack is our best half by a mile . Interesting that he is missing while three of his forwards who have been missing all season are in . I can't understand why ACC isn't at 13 .
      They will also find that it is Beale who makes Foley look good .
      The Messiah Guy keeps talking his wins up , two against Argentina
      Ranked 8th , one Ireland 5th. One Wales 6th , one Italy 14th and one Scotland 10th . An average ranking of 8th . Three wins against France 7th will make no difference still an average ranking of 8th . Nothing worth bragging about .

      Commenter
      Mankad
      Location
      Up in Palmerland ?
      Date and time
      June 04, 2014, 8:50AM
      • I don't know why McKenzie has suggested he has picked players on form, then picked some out of position. Toomua has played 1st five all year, Adam Ashley Cooper has played centre. AAC has been the form player for the Waratahs and has made Folau look better than he has played , although Georgina is a huge fan of his. I like the combination of White and Foley so we shall see how they go against a French team who may be good and can be very poor away from home. I believe Genia is carrying an injury as he has not played to his potential since breaking his leg last year. White will be more snipping and niggly than Genia ever was and Foley will run at the line more than Quade ever did although I am a huge fan of Toomua at 1st five he is a better defender and really strong with the ball at hand.

        Commenter
        Taffy
        Location
        Ingleburn
        Date and time
        June 04, 2014, 2:46PM
        • Will Genia is still the best halfback in Australia. Full stop.

          Commenter
          Muzzo
          Location
          Orange
          Date and time
          June 04, 2014, 4:48PM

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