Rugby

Five things: What Beale has over other golden oldies, double pain for Brumbies as Blues expose Australia’s biggest weakness

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Joe Schmidt has made it clear that his preference is to pick from home in 2024.

His thoughts on the Wallabies’ eligibility policy could change by this time next year with the Lions to assemble, but for the mid-year Tests against Wales and Georgia, he’s unlikely to look to other parts of the world to fill his first Test squad.

That will likely be another reason why Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley are unlikely to ever receive another call up.

The other more pertinent reason is that Australian rugby now has options at fly-half – and they’re not fresh faces either.

But one person who has rocketed back into the conversation is Kurtley Beale.

Other than those close to him, few took it seriously when Beale said he had had conversations with Schmidt about how to get back into the Wallabies.

Schmidt simply replied that he had to get back onto the field. He has.

Kurtley Beale made an instant impression for the Force during their win over the Crusaders at HBF Park on April 20, 2024. (Photo by Janelle St Pierre/Getty Images)

As well as playing onshore, Beale has two feathers in his cap that Cooper and Foley don’t have.

He’s not lost any of his acceleration. In fact, he looks the fittest he has for years.

But he also can play multiple positions – and he can play alongside the emerging fly-halves on the field rather than take their positions.

The confidence Ben Donaldson played with against the Crusaders, so soon after copping a battering against the Blues, was an example of Beale’s communication and ability on the field. He took the pressure off Donaldson.

He isn’t likely to start for the Wallabies any time soon, but he’s the type of figure that could play a role off the bench or in a wider squad.

Contrary to those who think he has a negative influence on the Wallabies’ culture too, the 35-year-old is one of the most popular figures in the game.

FORCE DISCOVER WHAT IT TAKES TO WIN – NOW THEY MUST FIND IDENTITY

Simon Cron will highlight one area on Monday about Saturday’s win over the Crusaders.

In the 72nd minute, with the match still in the balance at 25-15, the Force forced a turnover and shifted the ball quickly through to Ben Donaldson out wide, who belted the ball downfield.

He may have got a fortuitous bounce, but such was the kick chase, led by Donaldson, that the Force put the necessary pressure on Levi Aumua, who shifted the ball to his teammate and the home side was on him like a hawk.

The two players who tackled Macca Springer and forced the penalty at the breakdown were Tom Horton, who is now under pressure to keep the No.2 jersey after the signings of Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Nic Dolly, and Michael Wells.

From that the Force scored and the game was wrapped up.

The kick chase, which came in the latter stages of making 206 tackles for the match, was a clear example of what effort can do.

The 22-point win also showed what could be for the Force if they continue to get their troops back on deck and plan better around their roster.

With Santiago Medrano, Izack Rodda, Will Harris and Michael Wells returning, the Force at last looked like a professional side.

Beale only had the positive involvements he did on his debut for the Force because of the platform set by the Force.

It was another important lesson for the Force that no matter which fancy backs you buy, you struggle to win rugby matches without setting the foundation up front first.

Cron touched upon it later in his post-match interview on Stan.

“I think one of the things that hurt us over the last year or two is maybe that forward planning, so we need to be much better around how we forward plan, how we recruit, who we’re bringing in and how long we can them in for,” the second-year Force coach said.

“Against the Blues last week, we had six guys in the forward pack who hadn’t done pre-season for us. We just can’t let that happen again, and it does take a couple of years for us to try and get that right.

“It’s also about bringing in the right humans like the [Nic] Whites and Donaldsons who are going to add to the team.”

SCHMIDT’S TIGHT-FIVE WORRIES GET A BOOST

The fly-half position might be the most open spot in Australian rugby, but the second-row is the biggest area of concern for Schmidt.

At present, there isn’t a world class lock in Australian rugby – and that’s a worry when it comes to international rugby.

The All Blacks had two for a decade in Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, while the Springboks have had several (Victor Matfield, Lood de Jager, Franco Mostert, RG Snyman) but none more effective than Eben Etzebeth during the same time.

Surprise, surprise those two countries have won the past five World Cups between them.

If Rugby Australia is to get serious, it must prioritise building a tight five, especially its locks, if they are to challenge in 2027.

Izack Rodda made a memorable return for the Force against the Crusaders. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Those who tuned in to see the Brumbies, who boast three Wallabies locks, who are all in the reckoning to feature in 2024, physically dominated by the Blues would have been concerned.

Harry Hockings, the outstanding Suntory lock, who left the Reds at the start of Covid, would have been a strong figure to start with. Unfortunately, it’s a matter of time before Eddie Jones gets his hands on him permanently.

However, Schmidt would have been buoyed by Rodda’s return over the weekend.

The 27-year-old, who started at the 2019 World Cup, played almost as much action off the bench as he has over the past two years.

His 14 tackles and countless rucks showed his work rate, but it was his lineout steal on his line in the 65th minute that was one of the clutch plays that showed his experience and defensive skills. Who also saw his calming influence around the park?

Should Rodda be able to stay on the field, he’s a certainty to feature in July.

REDS STAR STANDS UP AT THE RIGHT TIME

Without Fraser McReight and Tate McDermott, Les Kiss needed another big-name player to stand up. He found one in Hunter Paisami.

A week after Lalakai Foketi showed his poise and leadership at inside centre, Paisami followed suit.

Paisami, 26, doesn’t appear to play with the same time Foketi does, but he hits harder and offers a more dangerous threat at the line.

Yet, too regularly his handling and decision-making have let him down.

On Friday, Paisami delivered his most complete performance of the year.

He was strong defensively, but it was his work in attack, where he regularly jumped into first-receiver that was pleasing to see.

Often seen as a gain-line, wrecking ball, Paisami’s passing game was on display as he freed up Mac Grealy out wide in the 57th minute.

Hunter Paisami was the Reds’ best during their win over the Highlanders in Brisbane. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

A couple of minutes later he then found touch near the Highlanders’ line after getting the ball back following some scrappy ball. It was a mature play.

Paisami’s lovely ball to Lawson Creighton in the 62nd minute also saw the Reds score their third try.

Of course, his cross-field kick allowed Suliasi Vunivalu to score one of the easiest tries of his career.

But it was the little things that stood out about Paisami’s game. Sometimes, less is more.

DOUBLE PAIN FOR BRUMBIES

It’s not just the Brumbies’ top two hopes that took a hit on Saturday but some of their key players’ hopes of playing for the Wallabies.

The loss to the Chiefs in round two could be put down to a bad day, but two extremely poor performances inside eight matches against top-tier New Zealand opposition will have Schmidt reassessing his Wallabies squad.

On Saturday afternoon, they must respond and perform against the competition leaders, the Hurricanes, who are just the second side in two seasons to come away from Fiji with a win.

If they don’t, it could be a case of three strikes and out with regards to Test selection.

The Brumbies weren’t just bullied in the final three quarters against the Blues, they discombobulated.

Ryan Lonergan, who has been so close to a Wallabies call up in recent years, had a forgettable evening at Eden Park while his halves partner Noah Lolesio struggled too.

In both cases, their decision-making let them down.

The Brumbies tried to catch the Blues napping at certain stages, particularly in the opening 20 minutes, but their tactics and execution were found wanting against the most physical side in Super Rugby.

Now, it’s the Reds’ turn against Vern Cotter’s Blues side.

It’s a big weekend ahead for Schmidt’s Wallabies hopefuls.

Christy Doran’s Australian Super Rugby team of the week:

Alex Hodgman, Tom Horton, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Sam Carter, Ryan Smith, Liam Wright, Carlo Tizzano, Reed Prinsep, Kalani Thomas, Ben Donaldson, Mac Grealy, Hunter Paisami, Sam Spink, Bayley Kuenzle, Kurtley Beale

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