Moving Kurtley Beale would be a well-intentioned mistake
Australia's fullback Kurtley Beale is tackled head high by Ireland's Rob Kearney AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS
A penny for the thoughts of Wales defensive coach Shaun Edwards at reports that the Wallabies are contemplating a move from fullback to five-eighth for Kurtley Beale.
Should it transpire, the Welsh are likely to declare with great solemnity their utmost respect for Beale as a five-eighth while privately investing in some lottery tickets.
Beale has logged plenty of hours in the No.10 jersey – Robbie Deans prepared a Crusaders team against him in that position in the 2008 Super 14 final – but he has gone to another level at fullback.
The Wallabies might not gain enough from Beale at No.10 to compensate for what they will lose at No.15.
The number of “world class” Wallabies – for the sake of this argument, players viewed as top three in their position – diminished at the 2011 World Cup as the tournament progressed, but Beale was one of those who kept his label. Shifting him doesn’t mean that status goes with him.
Evidence that he could fill the playmaker role at Test level is being compiled on the basis of his outings for the Rebels.
But evidence – such as the recollections of Reds and Crusaders fans about what actually happened on Sunday – comes in varying degrees of reliability.
There is no chance that Wales would give Beale, who is still out of shape, the sort of leeway that is being offered at Super level, especially with yesterday’s news that Sam Warburton will be fit to make the trip.
Although Beale did some wonderful things against the Bulls, a pattern emerged that would quickly be targeted by the pacy, aggressive Welsh back-rowers.
Beale likes to advance towards the line and hit runners – inside and out – with short passes. It does not take too much imagination to envisage the Welsh rushing up on his outside shoulder to shut down his space. There will be a preview of what is to come when the Crusaders – with Richie McCaw set to start in the back row – face Beale on Saturday.
A few years back Fox Sports’ Rod Kafer produced a telling bit of analysis comparing the long, accurate passing of Quade Cooper to Beale’s distribution. In a nutshell, it showed how Cooper’s attributes allowed the Reds to play a wider game, a style that helped win a Super title.
Beale, meanwhile, went on to develop his brilliance in a different way, turning himself into a frightening counter-attacker once he mastered the high ball.
Playing at No.15 does not mean an end to the good things that Beale produced against the Bulls. He is more than capable of judiciously stepping in at first-receiver when opportunity calls for it, using his pace and footwork against mismatches in the defensive line.
There are also other options at No.10 if James O’Connor and Cooper are not ready.
Berrick Barnes has been on a rollercoaster ride in the court of public opinion over the past six months, from Messiah-in-waiting at the World Cup to a handbrake on the Waratahs’ Super Rugby aspirations.
Even the normally diplomatic Sean Fitzpatrick, in his role as an analyst for UK television, was bluntly critical of the playmaker in the preamble to the Brumbies match.
But Barnes served up generous doses of humble pie to his critics – mine tasted fresh – with his willingness to take the ball to the line in Canberra, an attribute which, if you were being cruelly suspicious, did not look like returning after last year’s troubling head knocks.
That the Waratahs did not make a larger impression on the scoreboard was due to factors other than Barnes’ mini-reinvention. He especially was not helped by a poor passing display by his halfback.
And discount his defensive error on Henry Speight. The tapes in recent years do not lie. He does not miss many and everyone is permitted an aberration.
There was also a lot to like in the performances of Mike Harris and Ben Lucas for the Reds in Christchurch. Lucas’ passing is sharp and Harris’ running lines are straight. He also showed that Kiwi knack of being strong over the ball that even their five-eighths (except one) seem to have. Should the mercurial Cooper decide that even singing the team song isn’t enough to keep him at the Reds, there would be plenty of life in Brisbane after him.
As for the Welsh, it is the sight of Beale in No.15 that would cause them the most fretful nights. They have not forgotten that moment in Cardiff in 2010 when Beale launched an up-and-under from the back, plucked it out of Mike Phillips’ hands and then grubbered ahead to almost score the try of the year.
It is harder to fly like that with the burden of directing a Test on your shoulders.
Paul Cully is a freelance journalist who was born in New Zealand, raised in Northern Ireland, but spent most of his working life in Australia. He is a former Sun-Herald sports editor, rugby tragic, and current Roar and RugbyHeaven contributor.
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