Kurtley Beale can stake a claim to the Wallabies’ fullback spot at the World Cup after being handed the NSW Waratahs No.15 jersey vacated by Israel Folau.
With the rugby future of incumbent Test fullback Folau in doubt as he awaits his code of conduct hearing, utility Beale has been challenged to showcase his skills at the back for the rest of the Super Rugby season.
He will start there in the Waratahs’ crucial clash with Australian conference leaders Melbourne Rebels at the SCG on Saturday.
It’s a familiar job for Beale, who made his name in international rugby as fullback, earning nomination for World Player of the Year in 2010 and playing the 2011 World Cup there before becoming the regular inside centre.
“It’s a real opportunity for (Beale) to step up in a position as we know he can and really try and own that position for the next nine games,'” Tahs coach Daryl Gibson said on Thursday.
While Folau’s strengths were aerial skills and try-scoring instinct, Gibson relished unleashing sharp counter-attacker Beale’s attributes at fullback.
“He has a strong kicking game and a real nice tactical appreciation,” Gibson said.
“So we will be looking to see what he can bring that position and allow him that freedom to play the way he wants to play.”
Folau is facing the sack by Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby after being charged with a high-level code of conduct breach over controversial social media posts.
“I certainly support any player that takes up their right (to a code of conduct hearing) and the code of conduct is what it is,” Gibson said.
Gibson admitted the Folau saga was a significant distraction in the past week but believed his players were ready to perform well.
“On-field is a real sanctuary for the players and what I have seen from Monday and Tuesday (training sessions) is a release of a lot of energy that has been built up and some really good quality stuff,” Gibson said.
Waratahs: 15. Kurtley Beale, 14. Cam Clark, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12. Karmichael Hunt, 11. Alex Newsome, 10. Bernard Foley, 9. Jake Gordon, 8. Michael Wells, 7. Michael Cooper (capt), 6. Jack Dempsey, 5. Rob Simmons, 4. Jed Holloway, 3. Sekope Kepu, 2. Damien Fitzpatrick, 1. Harry Johnson-Holmes
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