Beale-Foley combination ready to dominate
February 10, 2014
Kurtley Beale had a lacklustre 2013, but has impressed coach Michael Chieka during the Blues trial in Sydney © Getty Images
Benji Marshall's return to Sydney via the rah-rah ranks wasn't exactly in the headless chicken category. More like lame duck.
Nonetheless, the New South Wales Waratahs-Blues trial at Allianz Stadium was still of immense value - as it provided a sneak preview of what could be the most dangerous of attacking combinations. It also showed exactly where the much-troubled and often-in-trouble Kurtley Beale could receive a lifeline.
As for Marshall, there was a lot of pointing at other players, a lot of being in the wrong position, and a lot of shuffle passes from the former National Rugby League guru in a downbeat 40 minutes on the field. He has a considerable way to go.
Beale, meanwhile, may have found a new midfield position that could become his domain.
After a volatile season with Melbourne Rebels, which included being at the centre of a scuffle on the team bus in South Africa, Beale was picked up by the Waratahs in the hope he could get his off-field act together and provide them with attacking direction on the field.
At first, it looked as if it would require a bit of juggling to just getting him in the Waratahs line-up: fullback and No.10 appeared to be adequately filled, as Israel Folau and Bernard Foley were well equipped for those roles. Maybe Beale would be forced out onto the wing. But no, in the second half of the Blues trial, Beale, who had been running around at fullback, was moved to inside centre, between Foley and Adam Ashley-Cooper. It worked.
Foley and Beale flitted between the No.10 and No.12 roles; it worked best when Foley was the main playmaker with Beale the alternative, working off his five-eighth's shoulder.
The Waratahs introduced rookie Alofa Alofa, who had a cracking game in the trial against the Blues © Getty Images
Provincial, Test … any form of coach dreams of having two playmakers in midfield, and so Waratahs coach Michael Cheika is bound to consider seriously the option of having Foley and Beale side by side, especially with Nick Phipps, another player to have moved north from the Rebels, so effervescent at scrum-half.
Through a Phipps-Foley-Beale-Ashley-Cooper combination, with Folau overseeing it all from fullback, and Jonno Lance as midfield back-up - you have the foundations of a high-quality provincial attack.
Cheika after the game singled out several below-par passes from Foley, but the No.10 still produced an exemplary performance. He was poised, didn't get over-excited, and understood how his scrum-half plays. He also chose his options well, attacking the line at the right moments.
As crucially, the Waratahs have worked hard on one of their chief frailties. For too long, the province had a reputation for being a bit of a gentlemen's club, which saw them slackening off in various areas, such as conditioning. They were renowned for falling away at end of games. They weren't fit enough.
But a visit to a Waratahs training session in January provided proof that Cheika has made important inroads in that area. Even in January, when players are usually focused on their suntans, Cheika had instead focused on flogging them.
The ESPNscrum team was there to interview Tatafu Polota-Nau. After watching the two-hour torture in which the players went at each other relentlessly in opposed sessions, there was concern that Polota-Nau, like many others, may not have the strength left to talk to us at the end. But Polota-Nau survived, as did the rest, explaining that a bit of hard love at the start of the season would work later on. And it showed in the trial match. The Waratahs were still firing in the 80th minute.
Sure, Super Rugby titles are not won in January and February. And you never promote the Waratahs too hard at this time of the year, as they are the masters of implosion. But you can still use this period to get others to start nervously looking over their shoulders.
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