'Sensational' Foley gives Rennie something to ponder despite late drama

MELBOURNE -- It will likely take Bernard Foley a while to get over this one.

But when the internal rage at last starts to subside, the Wallabies' fourth fly-half of 2022 will take pride in a performance that not only showed he still has what it takes to play at the game's highest level, but also that he is right in contention for a place in Dave Rennie's 2023 Rugby World Cup squad.

For while the Wallabies were denied a spirited comeback win in Bledisloe I -- in part thanks to French referee Matthieu Raynal's unprecedented time wasting call -- Foley was easily among his side's best performers, despite being the man whom Raynal pinged in the Test's dying stages.

"I thought he was sensational," Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said of Foley. "Controlled the game really well, his goal-kicking was exceptional. He's just very confident, he gives a lot of confidence to people around him, good energy and voice, a real positive mindset.

"Down 31-13 it's easy to start thinking it's going to be a tough finish to the game but he kept encouraging us to play and play at the right part of the field. So yeah I thought he had a big game."

The 33-year-old Sydneysider was virtually the last man standing when Rennie and his fellow Wallabies coaches sat down to settle on a team for Bledisloe I, after Noah Lolesio was ruled out with concussion and, earlier this year, Quade Cooper suffered a season-ending Achilles injury and James O'Connor was dropped for indifferent form.

But after nailing a perfect six from six from the kicking tee and laying on two tries for Andrew Kellaway, Foley may well retain his spot at Eden Park next weekend, even if Lolesio is deemed fit to play.

Foley's night was not without its drama, however, and even before Raynal awarded the All Blacks a scrum having warned the Wallabies No. 10 to get on and take his kick to touch the Wallabies No. 10 had suffered some nervy moments.

His first involvement was to spill a high ball, while he later was beaten on the outside by a flying Richie Mo'unga for a try as the All Blacks looked set to run away with the contest as Australia's indiscipline began to take its toll.

But in the two passes he threw to put Kellaway over, his kicking in general play and, as Rennie remarked, leadership at a time when it really could have got ugly for Australia, Foley proved his worth.

Despite having not played a Test since 2019 or any rugby whatsoever since late May, his international career might have some life in it yet.

As for Raynal's match-shifting call, debate will rage for decades to come.

While, as expected, they took differing views on the way the Frenchman arrived at his time-wasting decision, both the Wallabies and All Blacks were in agreement that they had never seen anything like it before.

"Well I've played 120-odd Tests and I've never seen it, and it would be interesting if that would be the call 10 minutes into the game, same thing," Wallabies captain James Slipper, who left the field with a calf injury, said.

"But at the end of the day he made a call... You know the rule's there, but there are plenty of rules that I believe aren't ruled on throughout the game - there's that many rules."

All Blacks vice-captain Sam Whitelock wasn't as forthright as coach Ian Foster, who labelled Raynal's decision "clear-cut", but the veteran lock did agree the Wallabies should have better managed the situation.

"I haven't had that happen to me in a game whether for or against the side I'm playing for," All Blacks vice-captain Sam Whitelock said.

"You've got to make sure you've got a good plan to close out the game whether you're up by one point or by more.

"Slips and I have known each other for a long time and he said 'look, we've just got to be better than that and he's spot on. It's something that I know that they will review and look at it and they'll make sure that it doesn't happen again."