Saturday 19 August 2017 / 10:04 AM

Backline issues: Selectors, get off the fence!

To say people were shocked when Kurtley Beale was selected at flyhalf for the opening Bledisloe Test is an understatement.

From where I was sitting, he never really got anything done in the ANZ Stadium encounter. He didn’t have a good game, nor did he have a bad game. The man just didn’t look settled.

His performance could have been bettered by the likes of Bernard Foley, who with only 10 minutes on the field did not have the chance to dictate the game in his usual style.

With the return Bledisloe clash in Auckland just a few days away, and the Wallabies in a must-win situation, Ewen McKenzie has again selected Beale at fly-half!

Does it make sense? That depends on what style of game the Wallabies want to play.

Beale didn’t look settled on Saturday night because the team lacked a go-to guy.

They need a dependable playmaker that can command the team for 80 minutes. Someone who demands the ball, and can come through in a clutch situation.

Bernard Foley did the job for the Waratahs – with Beale as his No.12 lieutenant – and could easily become this player against the All Blacks.

Beale can fit into the role. But based on Saturday’s performance, it seems unlikely that he is ready to command a team against the world’s strongest international outfit.

Beale and Matt Toomua, playing at inside centre, switched to the role of first-receiver a number of times, with Beale completing the task on twice as many occasions. This suggests a lack of team understanding.

Beale played a very lateral game, running sideways on many occasions. Not something you see from a natural fly-half.

The Wallabies’ game-plan really doesn’t suit this style of play. Foley, a solid and level-headed distributor who is able to challenge defences and set up the backline to suit the game-plan, is a better fit for the Wallabies.

Foley directs and leads the team in a way that Beale did not on Saturday. But not long after he entered the field and showed his class, the final siren sounded on a unsatisfying draw.

Toomua should be given another chance at inside centre to show that he can lift his game. To retain his spot for future Tests, he is going to have to start working for it.

Finally, no commentary on the Wallabies backline is complete without a discussion about the Brumbies selection path, or the Waratahs selection path.

To be able to put together a solid game-plan that will pick apart the All Blacks’ backline, the selectors need to choose between a majority of Brumbies, or a majority of Waratahs.

To put together a working, Waratah-based backline they would need to put Nick Phipps at scrum-half, Foley at fly-half, Beale at inside centre, and drop Toomua. This would leave Pat McCabe on the wing as the only Brumbies player.

If they chose to take the Brumbies direction they would somehow have to fit Tevita Kuridrani into the squad, which would not make sense, considering Beale and Toomua are both stronger at inside-centre – unless vice-captain Adam Ashley-Cooper was to be shunted from centre back out to the wing.

The current Wallabies backline strategy is a bit of a mess. The selectors are sitting on the fence, mixing two different game-plans together and hoping something goes right. Sitting on the fence only gives you splinters!

My preferred selection for the Wallabies backline in Saturday’s critical game would be:

9. Nic Phipps, 10. Bernard Foley, 11. Rob Horne, 12. Kurtley Beale, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14. Pat McCabe, 15. Israel Folau.

 

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Luke Worthington

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