Kurtley Beale ready for pivotal role
After almost kicking his rugby career into oblivion in an alcohol-induced haze, Kurtley Beale is desperate to grasp an opportunity to redeem himself after being installed as the Wallabies lead playmaker in Saturday's Bledisloe Cup clash with the All Blacks.
In March last year the 25-year-old's future as a Super Rugby and test player was in jeopardy after he punched a teammate on the Melbourne Rebels team bus following a heavy loss to the Sharks in Durban.
Beale was not involved in that 64-7 debacle at Kings Park, but did play up during the after match to the point where he refused to put on his shirt as the squad travelled back to their hotel.
His captain Gareth Delve objected - and when a topless Beale remained belligerent he lost his head and fought with Cooper Vuna.
Both players were sent home following the altercation and ultimately Beale checked himself into a rehab facility.
His recovery process was slowed by a shoulder reconstruction after the British and Irish Lions series but it gathered momentum when he returned to Sydney and the NSW Waratahs this year, his original Super Rugby franchise.
Now resembling a model professional, Beale starred as the Waratahs secured their maiden Super Rugby title - and less than a fortnight later he had no qualms about wearing the No.10 jersey in a much-anticipated Rugby Championship opener at ANZ Stadium.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for myself, it's great to be back amongst the group," said Beale, although ironically his future in the 15-man code is still subject to conjecture.
The Canterbury Bulldogs are reportedly keen to bring the ball-player to the NRL next season and employ him as a fullback - Beale has consistently been noncommittal about his long term plans, and continues to focus on the challenge posed by the All Blacks.
Beale's selection ahead of Bernard Foley - his Waratahs teammate and the Wallaby No.10 against France in June - was the major feature of Ewen McKenzie's team announcement on Tuesday and the 42-test veteran was naturally indebted to the Wallabies head coach.
McKenzie, who picked a teenage Beale at five-eighth when he coached the Waratahs, said his form and 'x-factor' justified his first start at pivot since the test against Wales in Cardiff at the end of 2012.
Primarily used as a fullback earlier in his career, Beale has started one of his seven tests at first five-eighth against the All Blacks - the 18-18 draw in Brisbane almost two years ago.
Beale declined to attempt a potentially match-winning dropped goal in the dying stages that night at Suncorp Stadium - though that oversight paled in comparison to his missed penalty against the British and Irish Lions at the same venue last year.
He cut a forlorn figure as he righted himself after slipping over while he connected with a potentially match-winning three-pointer after the siren - and has not kicked for the Wallabies since.
That may change this weekend and Beale was bullish about taking the kicks although he only had a 53.8 per cent success rate as Foley's back-up in Super Rugby.
"I've just got to stick to my process, the more balls I kick the (more) confident I get with the contact and approaching the ball. I've got my own ways and if handed the duties this week I'm ready to go," he said.
"As a kicker you don't want to dwell on your last kick, you always want to look forward."
Beale understandably preferred to dwell on his other attributes.
"I know I like to get my hands on the ball. I've got some really good players around me so my key role is to try and give them the ball as much as I can, and try to direct the play," he said, enthused at the prospect of spearheading a revamped backline from the kick-off.
"I always had 15 minutes to play (off the bench against France) so you try and rush and get into position a lot quicker. You're kind of running around like your head's cut off a bit.
"Now I've got a bit of time to settle into the game and have a real good feeling about what needs to be done."
Which is: "Try and build pressure in certain periods of the game to try and take the opportunities when we do get them."
Part of his brief is to get Israel Folau more involved in the game - although the fullback already has an impressive 13 tries in 18 tests.
"That's always the key when you've got players like Izzy. As ball players you want to try and put those guys into space so they can go out there and do their thing," he said, acknowledging an expansive approach might have to be tempered.
"We don't want to go wide too early. We just need to have a really good balance in trying to nullify what the All Blacks come at us with. I think with the structures we have and the plans that we have we can do it."