Why Wallabies should bring Kurtley Beale back into the team ahead of the Rugby World Cup

DUBLIN – Sometimes the grass isn’t greener. Even in Ireland, as the weekend’s Test defeat to Andy Farrell’s world No.1 side showed.

Once Quade Cooper was the most vexed player in Australian rugby but that tag now certainly rests with Kurtley Beale, who was left at home for the Wallabies’ spring tour.

That won’t please many to hear, with the scars surrounding Ewen McKenzie’s messy departure a sore point that will forever remain for many, but the cold hard reality is that a fit and focused Beale, like Cooper, is streets ahead of many of the current players on tour with the Wallabies.

Keeping Beale at home was not a bad option in 2022.

After all, Dave Rennie needed to find out more about his team one year out from the World Cup but with every passing Test it is more apparent the Wallabies need a Beale-like figure in their matchday team.

Without Beale, or a figure like Isaac Lucas whose absence from Australian rugby is a blight that must be rectified, the Wallabies lack creativity and a player who can cover multiple positions off the bench.

As soon as Hunter Paisami left the field with a MCL injury, the Wallabies’ attack was always going to be one-dimensional with outside center Len Ikitau shifting one position in.

Ikitau is a fine player but he’s not a bash the line bully like Samu Kerevi nor a triple threat option like Paisami, who for all his mistakes is still a potent option on both sides of the ball.

Ikitau is an out-and-out outside centre, who is only just starting to find his voice on the field.

If he was going to shift to inside center, he needed a ball-playing option outside him but neither replacement utility back Jordan Petaia nor fullback Andrew Kellaway is that. While for the third time in his turbulent international career, point guard Noah Lolesio was once again left shivering on the sidelines in yet another dent for his confidence.

It was no surprise therefore that the Wallabies rarely threatened the line despite dominating territory (67 per cent) and possession (61 per cent) in the first half.

Two instances in the first half showcased Ikitau’s shortcomings at inside centre.

The first was when Ikitau missed a clear chance to put the ball on the toe in the back field when there was no fullback cover in the 26th minute.

Later, in the 33rd minute, Ikitau simply had no answers and spilled the ball in front of the Irish line.

After Nic White found space and should have scored in the opening minutes, the only times the Wallabies looked like scoring were when wingers Tom Wright and Mark Nawaqanitawase had the ball.

Mark Nawaqanitawase of Australia looks for support during the Autumn International match between Italy and Australia at Stadio Artemio Franchi on November 12, 2022 in Florence, Italy.  (Photo by Timothy Rogers/Getty Images)

Mark Nawaqanitawase. (Photo by Timothy Rogers/Getty Images)

Wright was his typical elusive self and regularly looked like breaking the line when taking the ball.

He might not have the control needed to be a long-term fullback option, but the former Manly Sea Eagles five-eighth could be considered as a first or second-five option for the Brumbies next season.

If he needs inspiration, he needs only to look as far as his coach next year, Stephen Larkham, who was controversially moved from fullback to fly-half and turned out to be one of the Wallabies’ greatest.

As for Nawaqanitawase, the 22-year-old has already transformed the little attack the Wallabies did show in Dublin.

It has been nothing short of extraordinary to see how the Wallabies’ attack has digressed over the past three seasons.

When Rennie took over, he and attack coach Scott Wisemantel spoke of evolving the Wallabies’ attack, which had become one-dimensional under Michael Cheika.

Initially they did, with Paisami regularly used as a kicking option at inside center but the short, creative, attacking kicks had dried up increasingly this year as the defeats and pressure continued to build.

The sight of Rob Valetini, whose mighty season has ended with a syndesmosis injury, run continually into contact from set-piece play were further examples of a side looking to dominate the contact zone but nothing else. Quite simply, the lack of variety was astounding.

But Nawaqanitawase’s aerial ability has at last given them a point of difference and a notable threat out wide.

The Wallabies’ kicks weren’t quite where they needed to be but his ability to win the ball back, just like Freddie Steward for England, should be enough to see the coaching staff realize what they have in the long-limbed outside back.

Australia’s decision to kick more came after the All Blacks delivered a kicking clinic at Twickenham, where they opened England’s narrow defense up by brilliantly finding their wingers out wide.

Yet it didn’t mask their flaws in the midfield, where someone of Beale’s pedigree would have been invaluable off the bench.

Rennie, it is understood, doesn’t see Beale as an inside centre.

It’s no real surprise given he has regularly opted for a bigger ball carrier in the No.12 position like Kerevi and, prior to that, Bundee Aki at the Chiefs before the damaging ball-runner moved to Ireland.

But even if Rennie wanted to persist with a bigger ball carrier at 12 it doesn’t mean he can’t have a ball player at 13, with Beale playing outside center for Racing 92 during his two-season stint at the Parisian club.

Beale’s great strength remains that he provides the Wallabies with attacking prowess and covers multiple positions. He is a spark that has yet diminished and the Wallabies could do well to keep it alive for next year’s World Cup.

Australia full back Kurtley Beale makes a break to set up the second Wallabies try during the Autumn Nations Series match between Wales and Australia at Principality Stadium on November 20, 2021 in Cardiff, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Too often Rennie’s selections, including off the bench, have been exposed. It was again against Ireland, with Lolesio not required despite the casualty ward the Wallabies’ bench resembled.

Beale, just as he did in 2015, can provide balance for the Wallabies on the bench.

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