Competing interests: Bernard Foley.

Competing interests: Bernard Foley. Photo: Getty Images

Bernard Foley's intended move to Japan is not about a post-World Cup exodus.

It is about conflicting interests at the top of Australian rugby, and a tug-of-war that is threatening to erupt between the Wallabies and sevens programs in the lead-up to the Rio Olympics.

Foley is just one name on a shortlist of Super Rugby players that men's coach Geraint John handed to the Australian Rugby Union when pressed for his wish list of stars from the 15-a-side game.

The others are Israel Folau (Waratahs), Michael Hooper (Waratahs), Sean McMahon (Rebels), Henry Speight (Brumbies) and Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies). All Wallabies, all high profile or, in the case of McMahon, tipped as big names in the making.

John has been clear about his intentions, telling Wallabies coach Michael Cheika he has no wish to poach players in the lead-up to the World Cup.

But with sevens officially taking top priority, over and above the Wallabies for the duration of next year, sections of the Australian Rugby Union board are convinced the lower-profile code needs some star power that only names like Folau, Speight and Hooper can deliver.

Enter Foley, a rising star in the Waratahs and Wallabies and a proven sevens performer, who won a silver medal with the men's team at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and captained the side on two world series before taking a Super Rugby contract at NSW.

The perfect hybrid athlete with a growing public profile, ARU chief executive Bill Pulver, contracts manager Andrew James and ARU board members hatched the perfect plan. Foley would bid a temporary farewell to Australia after the World Cup this year, play two seasons in the Japanese Top League and return in the middle to link up with the men's sevens side, provided they qualify for the Olympics.

It was all bubbling along nicely until the new Wallabies coach caught wind of the plan and voiced his opposition. Cheika has spoken publicly about his support for flexible contracting, so the problem is presumably not Japan, but the sevens component. The Wallabies coach, unsurprisingly, would like to retain his first-choice No.10 beyond one season.

As things stand now, no contracts have been signed. Foley and his management are keen on the move to Japan, but there is a raging torrent of water to go under the bridge before Pulver and the ARU board nail down their marketing jewel in the sevens crown. 

Cheika was visibly irritated that news of the plan leaked to the media in this of all weeks, when the defending Super Rugby champions are preparing to fire an opening salvo in their 2015 campaign.

"I think I'm just going to let it pan out," the Waratahs and Wallabies coach said on Friday. "What's being written is being written without any type of [attribution]. Until someone says 'this guy said that's happening', I'm just going to leave it and see how it pans out. Next thing there'll be an exodus to E-Entertainment News, I think that might be where it's coming from.

"I know [Foley] is going to play on Sunday. You can see from my tone I'm not really interested in talking about it at the moment, I'm interested in talking about the match that we're going to play on Sunday. Yes, I understand there are other issues to talk about, but maybe we can talk about it on Monday."

The reality, let alone a likely outcome, is far from clear cut. For better or worse, Pulver and the ARU board have staked the future of Australian rugby on the growth of sevens and are planning in earnest along those lines. In Cheika they appear to have met their first major road block.