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'Nothing's a short-term fix': Schmidt seeks to bring 'fragmented' Wallabies together, says Beale is 'finding feet'

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11th May, 2024
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Joe Schmidt is well aware of the threat Kurtley Beale poses but the new Wallabies coach has tempered hopes of an immediate recall to the national team, saying the veteran back must first “find his feet”.

After missing the entire 2023 season because of an off-field incident, Beale was handed a lifeline from one of his former coaches as Simon Cron got on the blower and asked the versatile back to join his Western Force side as an injury replacement for Harry Potter.

Beale made a seamless return to Super Rugby, starring in his first game by helping them to an important win over the Crusaders in Perth.

But after his quality first-up performance, Beale hasn’t been able to keep up the high standards playing behind a well-beaten pack over the past fortnight in New Zealand with the accuracy of his touch just slightly off.

Nonetheless, Beale seemingly hasn’t lost any of his acceleration, with the versatile back showing glimpses of what he’s capable of.

His communication, versatility and experience also make him an option worth keeping in mind, particularly with the Wallabies losing Reece Hodge to France and James O’Connor not getting any younger either.

“Kurtley’s just finding his feet again,” Schmidt told reporters in Perth, having spent time watching the Force throughout the week.

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“He came back, played for Randwick, got picked up over here.

“Even talking to Nic [White] about Kurtley that he’s had an influence with his calm experience from the backfield. It means it’s helping the guys in front of him. And then there’s his own athletic abilities that are very useful from the back.”

Joe Schmidt says Kurtley Beale will take time to “find his feet”. (Photo by Janelle St Pierre/Getty Images)

Schmidt knows first-hand the threat Beale offers too, having seen him score the opener against his then-coached Irish side in Melbourne in 2018.

On that Saturday evening, Beale stormed onto a ball from Bernard Foley and blitzed Peter O’Mahony and Rob Kearney to score under the posts.

With a generation of young playmakers developing across Australia – all five Super Rugby franchise’s first-choice fly-halves are under the age of 25 – Beale’s voice and experience is something worth considering, as his ability to bang over goals.

While not ruling out picking Beale, the experienced coach reiterated his thought that it would take the 35-year-old time to get back to speed and show his best after the recent switch to the Force.

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“I still think that he’s finding his feet,” Schmidt said.

“But I’ve coached teams against Kurtley and he’s shredded us, so I know what he’s capable of.

“I’ve seen it in the second Test here a few years ago with Ireland, he scored from about 40 metres out, ripping a decent hole in our defence, so I do know what Kurtley’s capable of.

“I do think it’ll take a little bit of time for him to find his feet, particularly because it’s a new team for him as well and I think it takes a while to slot in and get comfortable.”

Joe Schmidt says Australian rugby isn’t a “short-term fix”. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

Building connections was once again a theme Schmidt repeated on Friday, having arrived in Australian rugby after a chaotic 2023 World Cup campaign where experience was thrown out the window and youth backed.

Indeed, Eddie Jones’ decision to disregard convention and go all-in on the next generation of Wallabies meant gut instinct around talent was preferred over combinations and experience.

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Schmidt, however, won’t be nearly as extreme in his selection process, as he seeks continuity and stability ahead of next year’s important home Lions series.

“It’s probably just a little bit fragmented at the moment, on the back of last year,” he said.

“There were a number of changes during the year, and it just means that there’s probably not as much continuity as I’d be used to, or that cohesion that comes with players having played a number of years together, particularly in a national team.

“In recent times, I’ve come from two very settled national teams, so that will be a new challenge for me and I’m massively motivated by it.”

In complete contrast to the “smash and grab” rhetoric his predecessor spoke about, Schmidt said the Wallabies’ turnaround wouldn’t occur overnight.

But he added that there would be no excuses by the time Warren Gatland’s Wales arrive Down Under ahead of the first Test on July 6.

“Nothing’s ever a short-term fix,” he said.

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“Everything takes time, particularly cohesion when you’re trying to build that relationship between players where they can almost act instinctively off each other.

“Also, to get them in some sort of attacking alignment, defensive lineout, all those things do take a bit of time but it’s not a luxury that we have. We’ll be as ready as we can be when we kick off against Wales.

“The advantage we’ll have [by the time we play the Springboks in The Rugby Championship in Perth] is it’ll be our fifth Test of the year by the time that we arrive here, so hopefully you some evidence of that cohesion.”

Despite the Force’s poor season to date, Schmidt said several players were being monitored.

“I know Whitey from old, Ben Donaldson is the incumbent Wallaby 10, and his acceleration, his ability to change the line and distribute well have been very evident,” Schmidt said.

“Jeremy Williams has gone well.

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“There’s a number that we have continued to keep an eye on.”

The Western Force will host the Drua on Saturday night, with the match a do-or-die proposition for Simon Cron’s men.

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