Beale Bolsters Wallabies
Fullback Kurtley Beale returns to the Wallabies line-up for the first time since last year’s Bronze Final against Wales at the Rugby World Cup after being named in the side for Saturday’s third Wales Tour Test at Allianz Stadium in Sydney.
Last year’s John Eales Medal winner has endured a disrupted run with injury since the seventh world championship in New Zealand, being troubled firstly by a hamstring strain, and then by a shoulder problem.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has carefully managed Beale’s return, resisting the temptation to bring him back early after injuries among Australia’s backline resources left the Wallabies dangerously thin on available playmaking options.
A rousing work out on the training field last Sunday, which included a searching series of contact drills, convinced the Wallabies coaching and medical team that Beale was ready to go.
“It has been frustrating for Kurtley, and he’s obviously had some off-field challenges to deal with as well, but it was important for all concerned that he had full confidence in his shoulder before we looked at re-introducing him to the Test arena,” Deans says.
Beale’s return has necessitated a switch for the versatile Adam Ashley-Cooper.
After being employed at fullback for the first two Tests of the Wales Tour, the first-season New South Wales Waratah will plie his trade from the wing in his maiden Test at the Waratahs home ground.
Ashley-Cooper is one of eight Waratahs named in the run on side for Saturday’s Test, which is the first to be played by the Wallabies at Allianz Stadium since a 3-0 sweep of the All Blacks was completed by a 19-14 win at the then Sydney Football Stadium in the final Test of the 1998 series.
Another Waratah, the towering second rower Sitaleki Timani, returns to the side after missing the first two Tests of the James Bevan Trophy series and patners Nathan Sharpe, who has delayed his retirement until after the Rugby Championship.
Timani takes the place of Rob Simmons who drops to the bench.
Despite retaining the James Bevan Trophy for a third time in succession following last weekend’s win at Etihad Stadium, Deans insists that the changes are not cosmetic, but are designed to strengthen his side ahead of the series’ final show down.
He said the fact that last week’s match-winning-goal-kicker from off the bench, Queensland Reds utility back Mike Harris, and last week’s starting winger Cooper Vuna, had missed the cut for Saturday’s match-day squad, highlighted the Wallabies’ intent for the final game of the series.
Vuna evaded suspension on Monday after being yellow-carded for a collision with the airborne Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny.
Harris stepped up to kick the winning goal from a wide angle after the final siren in Melbourne.
Although missing out this weekend, Deans says both players have done well in the first two outings of their Test careers, and had good reason to be proud of their efforts to date.
Such is the closeness of the competition between the Wallabies and Wales that just 19 collective points have separated them across four meetings since October’s Bronze Final at the Rugby World Cup - with Australia having taken the spoils on each occasion by margins of three, six, eight and two points respectively.
“Wales are a very good side. They give you nothing and they take their scoring chances. They showed that in the Six Nations, and they showed it again last weekend,” Deans says.
“Both games in the series to date have been very close, there’s no reason to suggest that Saturday afternoon will be any different.”
Given that Wales has won just once in Australia, with that success coming 42 years ago, Deans says the tourists won’t lack for motivation even though the series is now beyond them.
“If anything, they will be even more dangerous because the circumstance will unshackle them,” he says.
“While they can no longer win the series, they can still achieve something only one other Welsh team has ever achieved by winning in Australia. And they have that opportunity in front of them with no real downside – nothing to fear so to speak, as the series is beyond them.”
To that end, Deans was quick to remind his men in the dressing room following last Saturday night’s match that what they had produced to date in the series would not be enough to succeed in this last encounter.
“After finishing fourth at the Rugby World Cup, and then claiming the Six Nations Grand Slam, this has already been a highly successful run for Wales,” Deans says.
“They will be absolutely desperate end on a high, and will know that they are capable of doing exactly that. We must similarly raise the level of our game if we are to deny them.”
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Will Genia, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 David Pocock (captain), 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Dave Dennis, 20 Michael Hooper, 21 Nic White, 22 Anthony Faingaa.