Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: All Blacks can derail backline star

Kurtley Beale of the Wallabies. Photo / Getty
Kurtley Beale of the Wallabies. Photo / Getty

Think Wallaby five-eighths, and your memory turns up glorious attacking episodes of constructive rugby.

Men such as Mark Ella, Michael Lynagh, David Knox, Stephen Larkham and Matt Giteau brought that intent and ability to test rugby.

As well as having natural flair, they had the rudiments of the game sorted, and that mix took them and their sides to a higher level than have the quixotic charms of Quade Cooper, who has been in the spotlight in recent seasons.

Others who've worn the 10 jersey in recent years then been discarded are James O'Connor, Berrick Barnes, Matt Toomua, Christian Leali'ifano and Bernard Foley.

Now the Wallabies have returned Kurtley Beale to the playmaking role he held for coach Ewen McKenzie when they were going through the early stages of their professional careers with the Waratahs.

Beale has all sorts of marvellous sporting traits.

His speed and footwork can mesmerise defenders, his all-action instincts are honed to challenge defences and there is the devil about his play.

Like many gifted players, his strengths can also be his undoing.

When he balances his game and remembers his teammates he raises his team's potency, but there is a suspicion his cavalier intent can narrow his focus.

It's a notion that takes you back to 1993 when Pat Howard was asked to play first five for the Wallabies in Dunedin because Lynagh was hurt. The All Blacks suggested there was room for Howard to run from his first touch before Michael Jones and others slammed the defensive door hard on the rookie.

Howard was uncertain for the rest of the test and the All Blacks claimed victory.

Now the Wallabies have restored Beale - a man ARU chief executive Bill Pulver described last year as a "national treasure" - to the five-eighths duties.

McKenzie has dusted the cobwebs off his man and asked him to manage the start of tomorrow's Bledisloe game.

He may succeed but for all his talents, Beale plays better without those burdens.

When he has extra space at second five-eighths, especially in phase play, and is asked to sniff the breeze, he can be lethal.

The All Blacks will fancy their ability to unnerve Beale and create enough doubt in his play to constrict the rest of the Wallaby backline.

If injury had not revisited Daniel Carter, the All Blacks would have brought him in from second-five to direct their backline.

That has the logic of a decade of test rugby behind it, while Beale's switch looks to have more hope than faith about it.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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