Wallaby watch: Kurtley Beale

With the Lions tour to Australia now less than two years away, we'll be taking a look at the Wallaby heroes we expect to play a major role against Britain and Ireland's elite. [more]

Wallaby watch: Kurtley Beale

With the Lions tour to Australia now less than two years away, we’ll be taking a look at the Wallaby heroes we expect to play a major role against Britain and Ireland’s elite.

Over the next 21 months we’ll give you the lowdown on the star names who pose the biggest threat to the Lions’ hopes of a first series victory in 16 years.

Some of the players we highlight will already be household names but others will be bolts from the blue, youngsters yet to appear on the big stage or experienced club campaigners peaking at just the right time to achieve the ultimate goal.

We’ll assess the veteran campaigners who believe themselves worthy of a recall, as well as the foreign-based stars who may return home just in time to stake a claim for a second shot at Test glory.

Where better to start than right at the back, the last line of defence and the man the Lions will need to bypass if they want to cross the Wallaby whitewash.

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When the Lions headed Down Under in 2001, Wallaby full back Chris Latham was an early casualty of Jason Robinson’s magnificent start to his Test career in the famous red shirt. Robinson stood Latham up on a sixpence with just three minutes gone of the opening rubber in Brisbane and that was that as far the Reds star’s series was concerned.

Latham, who went on to join Worcester Warriors, was replaced by future Newcastle Falcons full back Matt Burke for the second and third Tests in what proved to be an inspired switch. Burke became the rock on which the Wallabies built their series success, scoring 44 points as Australia came from behind to rob the Lions of a famous triumph.

The man expected to wear the No15 shirt this time around is made in an entirely different mould to his predecessor from the turn of the century but they share one devastating similarity: both are potential match winners.

Burke won games through his un-nerving ability with the boot and rock steady stewardship at the back but Kurtley Beale offers something altogether more exciting.

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Kurtley Beale is one of the stars of the current Wallaby team

A natural playmaker with experience at fly-half and in midfield, Beale can act as a second pivot during extended phase play but it is his vision and counter attacking abilities that set him apart from the crowd.

The new addition to the Melbourne Rebels set up can slice through the smallest of gaps and, while he lacks the out and out pace of a Christian Cullen or Serge Blanco, he possesses the presence of mind to free those around him once sufficient space has been created.

The likes of James O’Connor, Drew Mitchell and Adam Ashley Cooper have all benefited immensely from Beale’s remarkable skill set, with the trio having scored a glut of tries of the back of their colleague’s good work.

And while the kicking aspect of Beale’s game is nowhere near as renowned as Burke’s, it can hardly be considered a weakness. O’Connor and Quade Cooper may currently be the Wallabies’ front-line goal kickers but Beale is no stranger to the tee.

His monster effort against South Africa in the summer of 2010 handed Australia a first win on the High Veld in nearly 50 years, proving that pressure isn’t a problem for Beale. Having watched O’Connor kick throughout the thrilling Test match in Bloemfontein, Beale stepped up with just seconds left on the clock to send a sensational penalty attempt straight through the uprights from the halfway line – not bad for his country’s third or fourth-choice kicker.

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Beale was the match winner againt South Africa in 2010

Beale’s record with the boot in Super Rugby also suggests he could do a more than useful job against the Lions if required, with his 351 points featuring 60 conversions, 54 penalties and three drop goals.

In short, Beale is fast developing into the all-round full back that many Australian critics suggested he would never become. His early flaky form for the Waratahs after a stellar career in the Australian youth system has now long since been forgotten.

As things stand, the only question mark surrounding his presence in the three-match series against the Lions centres around his own satisfaction with the No15 shirt. Beale only switched to full back mid-way through the 2009/10 season having previously been used at fly-half and inside centre. While Beale has made it clear that he is enjoying the extra freedom associated with his new role he may yet get itchy feet and fancy a move back closer to the action prior to 2013. Throw in the fact that Beale is listed on the Australian Rugby Union website as a fly-half and  give us an indication

Fast facts

Name: Kurtly Beale
Date of birth: 06/01/1989
Position: Full back / fly-half / inside centre
Club: Melbourne Rebels (from the start of the 2012 season)
Previous clubs: New South Wales Waratahs
Height: 6ft
Weight: 14 stone 11lbs
Test debut: Versus Wales in Cardiff, November 2009
Test caps: 17 (as of 12/08/2011)
Honours: Australia Schoolboys three years running (captain in 2006); Australia U20; Australia A; Australian Rugby Championship Player of the Year 2007; Wallaby Rookie of the Year 2010; nominated for the IRB World Player of the Year Award 2010; Waratahs Players’ Player of the Year 2011

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Beale is expected to be at the heart of further Australian success

Strengths and weaknesses

Strengths: vision, eye for a gap, ability to create space for others and outstanding counter attacking instincts

Weaknesses: defence – Beale’s first-up tackling has often been questioned. When playing fly-half, Beale was switched to the left wing in defensive situations in order to shore up the Waratahs midfield.

Chances of being involved against the Lions: a nailed on certainty if he continues in his current vein of form and if he remains happy to have the number 15 on his back.

Rivals for the Wallaby shirt

Beale has made the position his own over the past two seasons thanks largely to his consistent levels of performance but nonetheless aided by a lack of real competition at the back. It’s not that Deans doesn’t have options – he has plenty of them – it’s that no one is sure who Beale’s main rival really is.

While Deans could move O’Connor or Ashley Cooper to full back with the pair both having featured there before, both prefer to play elsewhere.  Mark Gerrard appears to now be the main contender following his return from Japan and, while Luke Morahan is in the current Tri Nations squad, no one else has really put their hands up for a starting spot. Gerrard and Beale will be team-mates at the Rebels next season and how they get on against each other domestically could impact on how Deans sees his international options.

The other Super 15 alternatives are somewhat scattered and unclear, with quality rather than quantity the biggest concern for the Wallaby hierarchy. The Reds used a total of five full backs this year, with the Brumbies also seemingly unsure of their best option at the back after switching between Christian Lealiifano and Pat McCabe during the latter part of the season. Ben Batger, Beale’s understudy at the Waratahs could get the chance to impress next term but he would need to go a long, long way to rival Beale’s performances for the Sydney-based franchise. Former Wallaby squad member Cameron Shepherd needs a strong showing to force his way back into international reckoning but his performances on the big stage have so far shown him to be a class below Beale at his best.

The most likely contenders for Beale’s starting spot:

Mark Gerrard – a former Wallaby regular, Gerrard had been out of the squad for close to four years prior to the latest batch of summer Tests. A solid but far less spectacular performer than Beale, Gerrard will be trying to unseat his successor for both club and country.

Luke Morahan Whereas Gerrard offers more experience than Beale currently possesses, Morahan is yet to win Test honours. The 21-year-old wing cum full back is in the fringe squad ahead of the World Cup having starred for his country at Sevens. Tipped for big things, Morahan could be a serious contender come 2013.

Christain Lealiifano – with McCabe now being played at inside centre with the Wallabies, Deans is likely to ask for a similarly permanent switch with the Brumbies. That would free up the full back slot for the highly-rated Lealiifano who, like Beale, starred for the Australian Schoolboys set up. The New Zealand-born 23-year-old is a year-and-a-half older than Beale and has seen his career blighted by injuries but he has the potential to win international honours at senior level if he can live up to the promise of his youth.

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