Kurtley Beale a 'free spirit' Aussie rugby needs

GEORGINA ROBINSON
Last updated 12:00 01/08/2014
Kurtley Beale
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'FREE SPIRIT': Kurtley Beale is dynamite with ball in hand.

Kurtley Beale
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SHOULDER COMPLAINT: Waratahs playmaker Kurtley Beale failed to complete their final training run in Sydney today.

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Phil Waugh says he will be one of the great Waratahs and Daryl Gibson believes he is the "free spirit" rugby badly needs.

Jacques Potgieter just thinks he has never played with anyone better.

"I think Kurtley is the best rugby player I've ever played with and the best I ever will play with," Potgieter says.

"The best of the best. When he gets the ball it is like in slow motion, he has got so much time with the ball. And the thing he has taught me is that he always backs himself."

Kurtley Beale always backs himself. Whether it is a willfully naive chip over the top of a defensive line or a relentless run-pop-step-pop probe under heavy traffic in attack, Beale does not say die.

If he had, he would not be a day away from running out at his second Super Rugby final, six years after his first. Or one game off his 100th Super Rugby cap, or at the top of his game on and off the field. Or, or, or.

"It doesn't matter what the odds are against him, he always backs himself," Potgieter says.

"That's when your true character comes out, when everyone's against you and you still back yourself.

"He had so much pressure on him coming from the Rebels, with everything that happened off the field. He just showed everyone 'listen, I'm Kurtley Beale and I don't care what you say, I'm going to play the best for Michael [Cheika] and the Waratahs team and I'm going to lift the trophy for them'."

As the Waratahs have said so often in recent weeks, he has not done anything yet. But somewhere between Melbourne airport, a Narrabeen rehab clinic and Moore Park, the kid from the Joey's highlight reel has come back.

"I, I'm a one-way motorway ... I'm a road that drives away and follows you back home."

Beale is a teenage prodigy in the five-minute clip over which someone laid Dave Grohl's anthem about uncertain times.

"I, I'm a little divided ... Do I stay or run away ... And leave it all behind?"

After two uncertain, painful years, many wondered if the schoolboy brilliance would ever come of age. But Beale dug in, faced himself and decided his critics could go to hell.

"I think he's arrived in a really good environment and added to it as well," says Gibson, Beale's attack coach at the Waratahs.

"He is a wonderful spirit and when he is in a really good space it effects everyone in the squad. His feeling, his mood. He wears his emotions on the outside, and what you see on the field is how he's feeling on the inside.

"That's what you have to love about him, he's a free spirit. Particularly in our very structured game, that's very important for us."

Waugh was the NSW captain when Beale wore the No 10 jersey as an 18-year-old in the 2008 final. He limped off 10 minutes into the second half and the Waratahs lost the match.

He was a key component on the province's success back then and he has been the same magic ingredient this year.

The 25-year-old has started in all 17 matches for the Waratahs this year and has missed no more than three minutes in any one of them, topping the pops for carries and assists.

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"I genuinely believe he's a New South Welshman and potentially one of the great Waratahs, you can see it in the way he's bouncing around the place and just exuding energy," Waugh says.

"That level of enthusiasm and enjoyment is a competitive advantage in this environment. I think over recent times perhaps some people have tried to snuff that out but he's come back and it's been embraced by Cheika and a lot of the team feed off it."

Sometimes they also rely on it, as in the side's final-round clash with Queensland when the NSW lineout fell apart under pressure.

"He was quite outstanding in that game," Gibson says. "Particularly in those games where our set-piece doesn't function as well we have to find some other way to score some points and he really provides that spark and creativeness that we need."

His connections with Israel Folau and fellow playmaker Bernard Foley have proved the difference time and again on the field. And when team after team has tried to expose his supposed defensive frailties at inside-centre, Beale has never said die.

"I, I'm a new day rising ... I'm a brand new sky ... To hang the stars upon tonight."

Beale has learnt to live again, on his terms. Australian rugby has its schoolboy prodigy back. And the Waratahs have a shot at the title.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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