A jigsaw could be described as a tiling puzzle that requires the assembly of interlocking pieces.
That may also describe the selection of the Wallaby squad for next year’s Rugby World Cup – it’s going to be something of a jigsaw.
I guess we’d all confidently say that David Pocock, Rocky Elsom, Nathan Sharpe, Will Genia and Quade Cooper will be a number of those interlocking pieces.
A month or so ago you wouldn’t have said the same about Kurtley Beale? But the landscape for him has changed markedly in that brief period of time.
One of the puzzling things is why it took him so long to make his mark in Super 14 and international rugby after such a stellar schoolboy career?
An indigenous scholarship holder at Joeys, Beale won three GPS Premierships and eight caps for the Australian Schoolboys as a five eighth.
He was described as one of the greatest schoolboy players we’ve ever seen (and not forgetting his sprinting prowess: 2005 U16 GPS 100m 11.6 sec).
He went straight from schoolboy rugby to the Waratahs where he made his debut in the Super 14 in 2007.
Since that time he’s had his ups and downs in Super 14, never quite fully realising that immense potential until recently.
He started off as a five eighth but like other schoolboy sensations (QC comes to mind) it took him quite some time to adapt to the adult game.
The footwork and skillset that dominates at schoolboy level just couldn’t be replicated in the Super 14 and he didn’t quite have that consistent QC-like cutout pass that five eighths probably need.
He played an instinctive, ad hoc, shapeless style of rugby which may not have necessarily suited the team. He was still a kid developing his game management skills and expectations were way too high.
An area he really had to work on was defence. It got to the stage where he was hidden from the big boys who deliberately ran down his channel with Lote Tuquri or Cliffy Palu covering for him.
He was also given the goalkicking responsibilities but his success rate hovered around the 60% mark and this seemed to sap his confidence. He was one of those players you’d call ‘mercurial’.
His move to inside centre during the 2009 season was just what the doctor ordered. He eased seamlessly into the position and played a good half a dozen matches at IC.
Three of those were on tour in South Africa which the Tahs won and he seemed to have found his natural spot.
He was selected on the Wallaby Spring Tour last year as a utility and made his test debut from the bench against Wales on the wing. This came as a surprise to many for a guy who’d been nicknamed ‘Portley’ by some.
This year he started Super 14 again at inside centre but was moved to fullback to cover for an under-performing Sosene Anesi.
He went from strength to strength and he played his way into the first Wallaby test of the year against Fiji.
The Koori kid from Mt Druitt has grabbed all his opportunities with both hands this year. Firstly against the big boys as a sub v Ireland and then the last four Tri-Nations tests.
I have to admit that along with many others from outside NSW I wasn’t convinced he’d be a raging success as an international fullback.
(Punishment 100 lines: “Tom Carter should be the Wallaby No 12, Tom Carter should be the Wallaby No 12, Tom Carter should be the Wallaby No 12….”)
But now I’m a true believer!
The ‘new thinking’ in rugby circles which seems to have changed the way we’ve been playing the game recently has been a boon for his footy.
His defence has smartened up and he’s now making try saving tackles at the rear. You can tell he’s taking his rugby seriously with a new maturity, high workload and the Bill Young weight loss program….
The only niggling concern left is his ability under the high ball. In Europe later this year I guarantee it’ll be raining Garryowens as the Poms and others test his mettle.
But on the hallowed turf of HQ, KB and his new test team-mates are going to be an attacking sensation. Mark my words.
In South Africa, that goal really was the defining moment. Gilbert, the Bloem Bombshell, will have that kick imprinted into his head forever.
More G&GR articles on Gilbert Beale:
Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper – Australia v NZ Schoolboys 2006 (and some other very interesting names)