Beating ABs could complete Beale's redemption
A year after shielding Quade Cooper from the stresses of starting against the All Blacks, Ewen McKenzie has revised his safety-first approach at first five-eighth by entrusting another enigmatic playmaker with the pivotal role for Saturday's Rugby Championship opener at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.
Kurtley Beale's inclusion ahead of NSW Waratahs teammate Bernard Foley provided the unexpected element of an otherwise predictable team announcement yesterday, a line-up that faces the onerous task of preventing the world champions notching up a history-making 18th consecutive test win.
Beale's selection at No 10 for the first time since he played seven consecutive tests in that position during 2012, signals a dramatic shift in mindset for McKenzie as he hopes to celebrate his first year as head coach by loosening New Zealand's grip on the Bledisloe Cup.
When he replaced Robbie Deans in July last year, McKenzie handed the efficient Matt Toomua a test debut rather than risk Cooper suffering a World Cup-style meltdown against the All Blacks. Now with the erratic Queenslander unavailable through injury he has opted to use his other x-factor playmaker to unsettle a side that has not lost to the Wallabies since 2011.
"We recognise against the All Blacks you've got to get out there and have a crack. You need to take a few risks and get on with it," McKenzie said, when justifying Beale's selection ahead of Foley, the Super Rugby final-winning hero for the Waratahs - and until now his first choice goal kicker.
Beale, who has not kicked at goal for the Wallabies since his infamous slip when attempting to land a match-winning penalty in the first test against the British and Irish Lions in June last year, will now vie for the responsibility with halfback Nic White.
Should Beale be given the opportunity to exorcise the demons of Suncorp Stadium, it will continue a remarkable path to redemption since he was suspended by the Melbourne Rebels for punching teammate Cooper Vuna while on tour in Durban 17 months ago.
He was suspended and then entered rehab to treat alcohol-related issues and although he played against the Lions, a shoulder reconstruction meant he did not feature in McKenzie's plans until the June series against France.
Beale learned on Monday he would start ahead of Foley - a reward for rejuvenating his career in Sydney as a second five-eighth and alternate first receiver - and was relaxed after playing off the bench against the French.
"I've got a bit of experience under my belt now," he said, emphasising he would temper his natural flair by playing within McKenzie's game plan.
"I think that's the difference between test matches and Super Rugby. You need that bit of structure to get yourself settled into a game and (then) lean back on when you're finding it a bit tough."
Toomua, who is now established in midfield, will interchange with Beale outside White, while star fullback Israel Folau has also indicated a willingness to operate closer to the action.
The Wallabies' back three have also been revamped following the three-test clean-sweep of the Tricolores with Rob Horne replacing Japan-bound cult figure Nick Cummins on the left wing.
Utility back Pat McCabe starts on the right flank in his first start since 2012 after Adam Ashley-Cooper reverted to his preferred centre role at the expense of Tevita Kuridrani.
Meanwhile, the Wallabies pack is near full-strength, although two-test rookie Nathan Charles predictably starts his first test at hooker in the absence of Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau.
Sam Carter has recovered from an ankle injury to start at lock; Auckland-born Will Skelton is on the bench meaning there is no place for former captain James Horwill.
An unlucky player will be cut from the nine-man bench tomorrow.
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).