Motivated by the stunning return of Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale is hoping to add his own influence to a Wallabies team on the up and keep his dream of a fourth Rugby World Cup appearance alive.
The veteran Test back is enjoying a first taste of Dave Rennie’s Wallabies environment, after being called in as cover on the spring tour following Reece Hodge’s injury against Japan a fortnight ago.
But unlike Samu Kerevi and Will Skelton, who both thought their Test careers had ended upon leaving Australia, Beale says he had maintained the belief he could not only reach a fourth World Cup, in France in two years’ time, but also have a positive effect on the group as a senior player.
And he likes what he has seen in just a few short days in camp in Edinburgh, where the Wallabies will face Scotland at Murrayfield this Sunday night [AEDT] as they shoot for a sixth straight win.
“I just think it’s a really family feel here, no matter who you are, the youngest, the oldest, the most-capped, the [fewest] capped, there’s a real kind of brotherhood here,” Beale told reporters via Zoom alongside Hunter Paisami on Wednesday. “I haven’t used that word in a while, it really does feel like you’re in a family environment. There’s a lot of respect thrown around and the guys are working hard.
“And it was a great opportunity I guess for the new group to start their new identity and build on a new identity, and strive onto the next World Cup. And guys like Hunter, and the rest of the young boys, are really coming into their own and finding a voice and really leading a path.
“It’s great to see and it’s certainly going in the right direction. You see with the last five games, they’ve won five in a row now, and that doesn’t come easy. Guys are working really hard in the background, really trying to make a difference and put some good faith and good respect in the jersey.”
Without the injuries to Hodge and Tom Banks beforehand, it’s unlikely Beale would have been brought in to bolster the squad in the United Kingdom. He is also likely to find himself behind Andrew Kellaway at fullback, and potentially Jordan Petaia, but one further injury across the back-three would likely thrust the 32-year-old right back into contention.
It is a far cry from the situation that saw Beale depart Australian rugby midway through last year when he was left out of a Players of National Interest squad. Having received an attractive offer from French club Racing 92, Beale was granted a release from the remainder of his Waratahs commitments.
While a loosening of the Giteau Law – which has set in motion a chain of high-profile Wallabies returns this season – was to come not long after Beale departed, he says he always believed his own Test story still had some final chapters to write.
“There wasn’t much chat to be honest, but that was okay, I think we kind of left it as it was,” Beale said when asked what contact he’d had with Rennie before he left last year. “And for me, I was on a path just to try and keep developing my game in another country, another opportunity came along [to play] football in another country and the change was good.
“After the World Cup, the loss in the quarterfinal in ’19 really hit home with me. And I thought the change was great for me. And again being away from this environment, you kind of miss home a bit. But it makes you realise how special it is, how great the Wallaby jersey is, how great representing your country really is.
“There’s so many followers over here in Europe, the Wallabies are a well-respected rugby country, a renowned rugby nation, and being a proud Wallaby myself, it was just great to see the guys doing so well. And now to have an opportunity to be involved and to help in any way I can, to make it a successful spring tour, I’m really excited about it.”
And then there was Cooper’s return.
While the veteran playmaker stayed on in Japan last week, alongside Samu Kerevi and Sean McMahon, for now ending the trio’s Test returns, Cooper’s play reinforced the belief for Beale that he too still had something to offer the Wallabies.
“It just made me really eager to be back, to try and get back, it motivated me a lot. It definitely made me realise it is a special environment to be a part of,” Beale said of Cooper’s return. “It was great to see Quade and Kerevi back, those guys had a really good positive influence on the group.
“It certainly gave them a lot of direction on the field, you could see how Quade controlled the game. And it just allowed the rest of the team to be calm and just play their natural game. Hopefully I can have that type of influence now that I’m here.
“I know James is doing a great job in that 10 jersey training, and I’m sure he does have that influence on the group. So seeing guys like that having a positive influence, it just motivated me even more to try and put my best case forward when an opportunity comes.”
Just what role Beale plays over the next three weeks remains to be seen, but there is no doubting his excitement at potentially following the leads of Cooper and O’Connor and imparting his wealth of experience on Rennie’s Wallabies rebuild.
Beale’s first overseas stint at Wasps, over the 2016/17 seasons, was largely thought to have improved his game, and he believes his current contract at Racing can have similar benefits.
“You’re playing in the Top 14, you’re definitely exposed to a lot different styles of rugby,” he said. “The games can be slow; the conditions have a huge impact on how you play the game over here.
“It’s a long season so it’s always challenging, week-to-week games, and so I guess it opens your eyes up to a more holistic approach on how the game is played. And I feel like I have that now, I feel like have that experience and I think the benefit of playing some of the best guys in Europe; I think the French team are probably the most improved in the international game at the moment.
“Players like [Antoine] Dupont and [Romain] Ntamack, these guys are playing rugby week in week out, and are some pretty world-class players. So it’s great to be able to play in a competition like that and I definitely feel like it’s helped my game.”