Kurtley Beale to start at first-five for Wallabies

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 14:36 12/08/2014
Kurtley Beale
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BIG TASK: Kurtley Beale has won the Wallabies first five-eighth starting spot over Waratahs team-mate Bernard Foley for the opening Bledisloe Cup test against the All Blacks.

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A year ago the non-selection of Quade Cooper in the Wallabies starting line-up was a talking point after Ewen McKenzie opted not to expose him to the All Blacks when the playmaker's mentor in Queensland started his tenure as Wallabies coach.

And 12 months on McKenzie has sprung another surprise in the pivotal first five-eighth position by naming Kurtley Beale in the starting line-up for Saturday's Rugby Championship-opening Bledisloe Cup test at ANZ Stadium ahead of his in-form NSW Waratahs teammate, Bernard Foley.

Beale had been on the bench during the three-test series against France in June but reverts to his original position after starring for the Super Rugby-winning Waratahs at second five-eighth.

In other key changes to the side that beat the Tricolores in all three tests, veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper also returns to his favoured centre position at the expense of Tevita Kuridrani so the Wallabies will field a new back three of Israel Folau, Pat McCabe and Rob Horne in a bid to prevent the All Blacks recording a record 18th consecutive test victory.

From the forward pack that beat France 39-13 in Sydney see two-test hooker Nathan Charles start for the first time in his fledgling career for the injured Tatafu Polota-Nau.

One-cap lock Sam Carter - who was injured in his debut against the series opener against the  2011 World Cup runners-up in Brisbane - rejoins the second row alongside Rob Simmons to relegate Auckland-born Waratahs' giant Will Skelton to the bench.

The only forced change to the backline sees Japan-bound cult figure Nick Cummins replaced by Horne while rugged utility McCabe is on the other flank - a selection influenced by Joe Tomane's hamstring strain, though undoubtedly deserved following the 26-year-old's refusal to bow to two career-threatening neck injuries.

''There were a number of extremely tough selection decisions, especially after the way the team performed against France, however, we're confident we've come up with the best squad possible to win on Saturday night,'' McKenzie said.

He admitted the decision to start Beale ahead of Foley was the toughest call.

''Bernard hasn't put a foot wrong but Kurtley has really stepped up his game over the past few months.

''He'll bring some additional x-factor to our game.

''Shifting Adam (Ashley-Cooper) from the wing to the centres has been for much the same reason - he's been in outstanding form for the Waratahs,'' McKenzie said.

For the corresponding fixture in 2013, McKenzie, just weeks in the role after Robbie Deans was a casualty of the iconic British and Irish Lions series, included five debutants including new pivot Matt Toomua while Cooper sat on the bench.

Of the four other newcomers that experienced a 47-29 defeat, halfback Nic White and blindside flanker Scott Fardy are now established in the run-on side while prop Scott Sio would have been on the bench had he not twisted an ankle last week and Kuridrani is on a nine-man bench that will be finalised later in the week.

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Sio's injury encapsulates a troubled build-up for the front row with experienced hooker Stephen Moore out of action since the opening minutes of the French series and rival Polota-Nau, a second half casualty in the Super Rugby final.

Prop Laurie Weeks and third-string hooker Tolu Latu were also in camp briefly before joining the injury toll.

The unavailability of Moore and Polotau-Nau, who have a combined 141 tests worth of experience leaves Charles and James Hanson - with just three caps between them - to pack down against an ominous All Black eight.

Charles, who had two cameos off the bench against the Tricolores, is, alongside McCabe, the feel- good storyline of the selection as the cystic fibrosis sufferer continues to defy the illness to earn his first start.

Naturally, he can - and would not - expect any leeway from an All Black side that, world record aside, also has the motivation to maintain their grip on the Bledisloe Cup - a trophy they have owned since 2003.

ACT Brumbies lock Carter and Skelton also play their first tests against the All Blacks - who have not lost to Australia since August, 2011 -  with the latter's involvement sure to pique the interest of a crowd expected to top the 70,000 mark.

Wallabies: Israel Folau, Pat McCabe, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Toomua, Rob Horne, Kurtley Beale, Nic White, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper (captain), Scott Fardy, Rob Simmons, Sam Carter, Sekope Kepu, Nathan Charles, James Slipper. Reserves: James Hanson, Pek Cowan, Ben Alexander, Will Skelton, Ben McCalman, Scott Higginbotham, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Tevita Kuridrani (one to be omitted).

- Stuff

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