Bernard Foley has been left “bewildered” by a referee call at the death that effectively wrecked the Wallabies’ Bledisloe Cup hopes in a gripping Test encounter in Melbourne.
The Australians were left devastated after All Blacks fullback Jordie Barrett scored in the 81st minute on Thursday to secure a 39-37 victory to claim the prized trans-Tasman trophy for a 20th successive year ahead of the second Test in Auckland next week.
The Wallabies had forced a penalty with just over a minute remaining but as Foley went to kick the ball into touch, referee Mathieu Raynal made the rare call to sanction the veteran five-eighth for time-wasting.
It gave New Zealand a scrum at close range and they spread the ball wide to Barrett for the match-winner.
Now trailing 1-0, Australia had to win the series to regain the Bledisloe Cup.
Coach Dave Rennie said Foley was shattered by what unfolded after he had helped the Wallabies close an 18-point deficit in the second half.
He said that Foley thought the clock was off, so there was no urgency to play on.
“He’s a bit bewildered and shocked by the decision,” Rennie said.
“Obviously, he’s had a great performance and he feels like he’s let people down, he’s gutted.”
It took the gloss off a impressive return to Test rugby by Foley after a three-year absence.
The 33-year-old had a shaky start as the Wallabies trailed 12-0 early but lived up to his ice-man nickname as the pressure was turned up.
His goal-kicking was first rate with four conversions and two penalties while he found holes in the All Blacks defence, setting up two tries for fullback Andrew Kellaway.
“I thought he was sensational,” Rennie said of Foley.
“He controlled the game really well … 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 I thought he had a big game.”
Playing in Japan since the 2019 World Cup, Foley was thrilled to be back in the gold jersey.
“I loved it. I’ve missed the Test arena, the anticipation, the build-up, it was unreal,” he told Stan Sport.
“I was a bit disappointed with a few unforced errors early but I’ve worked on my mental game to stay on task and I was lucky to stay in the contest,” he said.
“This side has got so much potential – a lot haven’t played much Test match rugby but they thrived in the grind and they will be better for it. ‘
“These are great learning experiences.”
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