Fullback Kurtley Beale returns to the Wallabies line-up for the first time since last year’s Bronze Final against Wales at the Rugby World Cup, after today being named in the side for Saturday’s third Wales Tour Test at Allianz Stadium in Sydney.
Last year’s John Eales Medal winner has endured a disrupted run with injury since the seventh world championship in New Zealand, being troubled firstly by a hamstring strain, and then by a shoulder problem.
Qantas Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has carefully managed Beale’s return, resisting the temptation to bring him back early after injuries among Australia’s backline resources left the Wallabies dangerously thin on available playmaking options.
A rousing work out on the training field last Sunday, which included a searching series of contact drills, convinced the Wallabies coaching and medical team that Beale was ready to go.
“It has been frustrating for Kurtley, and he’s obviously had some off-field challenges to deal with as well, but it was important for all concerned that he had full confidence in his shoulder before we looked at re-introducing him to the Test arena,” Deans says.
Beale’s return has necessitated a switch for the versatile Adam Ashley-Cooper.
After being employed at fullback for the first two Tests of the Castrol EDGE Wales Tour, the first-season New South Wales Waratah will plie his trade from the wing in his maiden Test at the Waratahs home ground.
Ashley-Cooper is one of eight Waratahs named in the run on side for Saturday’s Test, which is the first to be played by the Wallabies at Allianz Stadium since a 3-0 sweep of the All Blacks was completed by a 19-14 win at the then Sydney Football Stadium in the final Test of the 1998 series.
Another Waratah, the towering second rower Sitaleki Timani, returns to the side after missing the first two Tests of the James Bevan Trophy series.
He takes the place of Rob Simmons who drops to the bench.
Despite retaining the James Bevan Trophy for a third time in succession following last weekend’s win at Etihad Stadium, Deans insists that the changes are not cosmetic, but are designed to strengthen his side ahead of the series’ final show down.
He said the fact that last week’s match-winning-goal-kicker from off the bench: Queensland Reds utility back Mike Harris, and last week’s starting winger Cooper Vuna; had missed the cut for Saturday’s match-day squad, highlighted the Wallabies’ intent for the final game of the series.
Vuna evaded suspension on Monday after being yellow carded for a collision with the airborne Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny.
Harris stepped up to kick the winning goal from a wide angle after the final siren in Melbourne.
Although missing out this weekend, Deans says both players have done well in the first two outings of their Test careers, and had good reason to be proud of their efforts to date.
Such is the closeness of the competition between the Wallabies and Wales: just 19 collective points have separated them across four meetings since October’s Bronze Final at the Rugby World Cup – with Australia having taken the spoils on each occasion by margins of three, six, eight and two points respectively.
“Wales are a very good side. They give you nothing and they take their scoring chances. They showed that in the Six Nations, and they showed it again last weekend,” Deans says.
“Both games in the series to date have been very close, there’s no reason to suggest that Saturday afternoon will be any different.”
Given that Wales has won just once in Australia, with that success coming 42 years ago, Deans says the tourists won’t lack for motivation even though the series is now beyond them.
“If anything, they will be even more dangerous because the circumstance will unshackle them,” he says.
“While they can no longer win the series, they can still achieve something only one other Welsh team has ever achieved by winning in Australia. And they have that opportunity in front of them with no real downside – nothing to fear so to speak, as the series is beyond them.”
To that end, Deans was quick to remind his men in the dressing room following last Saturday night’s match that what they had produced to date in the series would not be enough to succeed in this last encounter.
“After finishing fourth at the Rugby World Cup, and then claiming the Six Nations Grand Slam, this has already been a highly successful run for Wales,” Deans says.
“They will be absolutely desperate end on a high, and will know that they are capable of doing exactly that. We must similarly raise the level of our game if we are to deny them.”
The highly successful Castrol EDGE Wales Tour concludes with the rare treat of an afternoon Test match at an already sold out Allianz Stadium.
In conjunction with the Test, the Australian Rugby Union is running a fan day at the adjacent Sydney Cricket Ground, where members of the public will be able to meet players from the wider Wallabies squad, while also participating in a number of rugby-related activities.
The Qantas Wallabies team to play Wales in the third Castrol EDGE Wales Tour Test for the James Bevan Trophy at Allianz Stadium in Sydney (kick-off: 3pm AEST) is:
15. Kurtley Beale (Melbourne Rebels)
14. Adam Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs)
13. Rob Horne (NSW Waratahs)
12. Pat McCabe (Brumbies)
11. Digby Ioane (Queensland Reds)
10. Berrick Barnes (NSW Waratahs)
9. Will Genia (Queensland Reds)
8. Wycliff Palu (NSW Waratahs)
7. David Pocock (Western Force, captain)
6. Scott Higginbotham (Queensland Reds)
5. Nathan Sharpe (Western Force)
4. Sitaleki Timani (NSW Waratahs)
3. Sekope Kepu (NSW Waratahs)
2. Tatafu Polota Nau (NSW Waratahs)
1. Benn Robinson (NSW Waratahs)
Run on Reserves:
16. Stephen Moore (Brumbies)
17. Ben Alexander (Brumbies)
18. Rob Simmons (Queensland Reds)
19. Dave Dennis (NSW Waratahs)
20. Michael Hooper (Brumbies)
21. Nic White (Brumbies)
22. Anthony Fainga’a (Queensland Reds)