Kurtley Beale is the frontrunner to fill the five-eighth hot seat as the NSW Waratahs prepare for life after Bernard Foley.
With Foley, NSW’s most-capped No.10, among several senior figures to head overseas following this year’s World Cup, the Waratahs will enter the 2020 Super Rugby season seriously short on experienced playmakers.
But new coach Rob Penney isn’t fretting while conceding he will be relying “heaps” on Beale and Wallabies captain Michael Hooper to lead the new-look Tahs’ youngest squad in years.
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“Michael Hooper and Kurtley have certainly been the heart and soul here but for Australian rugby as well, with massive responsibility. I would envisage they would be desperate to make this team function as well as they can,” Penney said on Friday.
“So that’s why they are getting a bit of an extended break. Hopefully they are using that wisely, I am sure they are. They’ll come back excited to put boots on again.”
Beale is likely to start the season in the No.10 jumper he wore routinely – including as a teenager in the Waratahs’ 2008 final loss to the Crusaders – before Foley made the position his own under, firstly, Michael Cheika and then Penney’s predecessor and fellow Kiwi head coach Daryl Gibson.
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“We are pretty relaxed about that situation at the moment. We want to build from within and we want to give those boys our full backing,” Penney said.
In addition to Foley moving to Japan, the Waratahs have also lost fellow stalwarts Nick Phipps – meaning they’ll need a brand new halves pairing in 2020 – Sekope Kepu and Curtis Rona, while World Cup stars Adam Ashley-Cooper and Tolu Latu remain uncontracted.
Still, Penney is refusing to believe 2020 will be a rebuilding year as he eyes Australian conference honours and a place in the finals.
“You have got to go in believing. If you don’t have hope, then it’s hopeless,” he said.
“There’s a massive degree of excitement around what the future can look like, which is great and there’s a nice blend in the age profiles.
“There’s some youthful exuberance and some maturity that gives it a lovely balance. It’s very early doors but very, very positive about what the potential is like going forward.
“I think rebuilding can be a dangerous term. You can fall into a bit of a trap when you’re fundamentally trying to make excuses.”
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