Kurtley Beale's selection at flyhalf for the Wallabies is a bold gamble, but one that might just pay off against the All Blacks in Sydney, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Beale is a player of undoubted talent. He's just as capable of winning a match for the Wallabies (Exhibit A: Versus South Africa in 2010) as he is of losing one (Exhibit B: Versus British & Irish Lions Test in 2013). While both of those Tests came down to his accuracy off the kicking tee – something that is not his strong suit – that is often the case in Test match rugby.
He will share the kicking duties with Nic White on Saturday, in a move that seems strangely unnecessary when you have a player like Bernard Foley on the bench. The decision to break up the Waratahs backline, or the Wallabies one who prospered against France is an odd one.
Beale is a maestro with ball in hand, and will test the All Blacks' line defence with both his running and distribution, but is he capable of playing the tactical game required to apply pressure to New Zealand? I'm not so sure. He is prone to the odd error (see stats below) and against a side like the All Blacks, mistakes add up on the scoreboard.
The All Blacks come into this one on the back of 17 consecutive victories. They're unbeaten since the formation of the Rugby Championship and their last seven against Australia. They're the No 1-ranked side in the world, and with good reason. England may have ruffled their feathers in June, but even then they found a way to win. You don't want to give this All Blacks side a sniff, because they will hurt you.
Starting Beale over Foley is a risk. If it ain't broke and all that.
Ewen McKenzie knows that you can't win the Rugby Championship in your first match, but you can lose it. The match in Sydney presents the Wallabies with their best opportunity to get one over their Trans-Tasman rivals in a long time, one they've placed at the feet of Kurtley Beale, for better or worse. A loss will see them playing catch-up.
Beale's selection at flyhalf was not the only surprise selection by McKenzie. Adam Ashley-Cooper has been rewarded for his stunning Super Rugby form with a starting role at outside centre, with Tevita Kuridrani making way. Pat McCabe will start on the right wing in a bid to negate Julian Savea, with Rob Horne being handed Nick Cummins' place out wide.
Nathan Charles will make his debut at hooker, while Sam Carter has been tasked with calling the lineouts.
The All Blacks have gone with a more settled combination, with only two changes from the side who demolished England in their final June Test. Conrad Smith returns from injury to take his place at outside centre, while Wyatt Crockett has been called upon to replace the injured Tony Woodcock.
All eyes will be on Beale though. Will he dazzle with his fanciful footwork and sumptuous distribution, or will he put in a scratchy, error-strewn performance? My guess is that it will be somewhere in between.
The real question is, will that be enough to beat the All Blacks?
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Played 173, Australia 47, New Zealand 120, Draws 6.
In Australia: Played 92, Australia 28, New Zealand 59, Draws 5.
BEALE'S STATS THAT MATTER
214 – The number of carries he made during Super Rugby (Rank 1)
11 – The number of try assists he had during Super Rugby (Rank 2)
25 – The number of handling errors he made during Super Rugby (Rank 3)
22 – The number of knock-ons he made during Super Rugby (Rank 4)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Australia – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nic White, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 James Slipper.
Subs (one to be omitted): 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Pek Cowan, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Bernard Foley, 23 Tevita Kuridrani.
New Zealand – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith; 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Sub: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Joe Moody, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images