Australia's Kurtley Beale helped the Waratahs to a memorable Super Rugby victory in Sydney – and this analysis shows just how he did it
BELIEVE IT or not, Kurtley Beale is still 25. His career so far resembles a stomach-churning roller coaster, soaring to giddy heights with last-gasp penalties from 60 metres to win Test matches before plummeting because of alcohol-induced off-field problems. Just about the only constant has been his spellbinding attacking talent.
The past 14 months alone offer a microcosm of this helter-skelter pattern. Last June, he missed two very kickable attempts from the tee as Australia were beaten 23-21 by the Lions at Suncorp Stadium. A fortnight later, the series was lost.
Beale left the Melbourne Rebels and rejoined former franchise the Waratahs in a bid to rediscover himself. Despite a few problems settling into the inside-centre role at the start of this season, it has worked wonderfully. On Saturday as Michael Cheika’s men clinched their first Super 15 title following a thrilling 33-32 victory over the Crusaders, Beale was exceptional. These two clips demonstrate how his eclectic passing game tormented the New Zealanders, sparking the Waratahs at crucial moments.
Firstly, here is the build-up to Adam Ashley-Cooper’s opening try (pause at 0:18).
Assuming the role of first-receiver for three consecutive phases (though only two are shown here), Beale bosses proceedings. Aided by Nick Phipps’ whippy service, he decimates the Crusaders’ defence, acting like an NFL quarterback and, alongside Bernard Foley, demonstrating the value of deploying two ball-players at ten and 12.
Variety of pass and organisation of runners are crucial here. The first pattern – a wrap-around with loosehead prop Benn Robinson before a long sling to Foley on an outside arc – may look like an off-the-cuff play. However, as the screenshot below shows, Beale turns to communicate his plans early.
A burly charge from hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau (circled in red) sucks in tacklers and buys his backs time. Spotting an abundance of Crusaders standing redundant on the blindside of the resultant ruck, Beale (circled in blue) chooses to attack the wide left channel and manoeuvres a pod of forwards (circled in yellow) accordingly.
Robinson’s soft hands make him a perfect pivot while Jacques Potgieter runs a hard line to hold the Crusaders’ defence. This isolates Colin Slade, the Crusaders’ last man. Though Slade reads the situation fairly well and commits to rushing up, the strength and accuracy of Beale’s pass makes an interception impossible. Foley is released and the Waratahs are in behind their opponents.
Now Beale can strike. He knows the Crusaders defence, like many New Zealand sides, employs a soft drift system (essentially keeping to the inside shoulder of a runner, compelling them to go wide). With Israel Folau lurking, it seems sensible – especially given Beale’s ability to hit carriers from 25 metres.
But now there is a change of tack. As the ball comes back towards the right touchline, Wycliff Palu is propelled into midfield. Beale then faces a disjointed set of defenders and a string of slow tight forwards close to the ruck.
Rapid ruck-speed means he can use his pace to tear around the corner and accentuate the gap between Sam Whitelock and Ryan Crotty – clearly concerned by Folau and Alofa Alofa (circled in yellow). Ashley-Cooper (circled in red) needs no second invitation and barges through for a carbon copy of the score that sunk the Lions in Melbourne.
Snatching momentum back
This second clip comes after the Crusaders have clawed their way back into the contest. Close to the hour mark, they have wiped out a 14-0 deficit and lead thanks to a stunner from Nemani Nadolo. The Waratahs need inspiration. Beale steps up (start this video and pause it at 21:08).
When Phipps spins the ball out to his attacking talisman, the Crusaders look well set. Beale makes the most of even the smallest scent of uncertainty.
Again, the presence of Folau (yellow circle) encourages the Crusaders to drift. If the ball goes to tighthead Sekope Kepu, they should be able to readjust. However, Beale goes to the gain-line and sends a flat pass in front of Kepu to Michael Hooper.
Richie McCaw is outstripped by the openside’s explosive stride and the Waratahs have impetus once more. The follow-up may seem irrelevant. Even so, it was perhaps the most significant signpost of Beale’s intent all match.
With Phipps the first man to Hooper, he commits to the clearout – another great decision in the No 9’s fine game. Beale is just as aware, stepping in at scrum-half to clear the ball to Palu and keep the Waratahs on the front foot.
The Crusaders were simply passengers when they could not slow down their opponents’ ruck ball and were on the rack here. Andy Ellis’s desperate challenge on Phipps prevented a try from the next phase, but the pressure did not let up and Ashley-Cooper’s second came soon afterwards.
The Wallabies possess an incredible embarrassment of midfield riches – Foley, Matt Toomua, Quade Cooper, Christian Leali’ifano, Tevita Kuridrani, Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne and Pat McCabe to name eight options.
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But Beale’s instinctive decision-making, as exhibited on Saturday, is of rare class. With him at his best, igniting Folau and other phenomenal firepower out wide, Australia will challenge the All Blacks’ dominance – both at the upcoming Rugby Championship and through to 2015.