Widely recognized as one of the finest full-backs in world rugby, Kurtley Beale, at just 22 could be about to set the Rugby World Cup alight.
It is hard to think that this time just four years ago the then 18 year old Beale was hotly tipped to make the Wallabies World Cup squad, eventually missing out to Berrick Barnes. At the time it was believed to be Beale’s willingness to take the game by the scruff of the neck and produce moments of magic that held him back. Unfortunately for Beale, in 2007 Australia were playing very conservative rugby and looked to stick to a practical blue-print, and Beale was seen as too much of a live wire. It is hard to think that just four years on Australia are looking a very different prospect with the likes of Quade Cooper, Digby Ioane and James O’Connor given creative freedom to rule the roost (although Cooper may be asked to tame the dramatics slightly when it comes to the World Cup).
However, Beale has not always found it so easy. When he initially stepped up to first team duties at fly half there were a number of inconsistencies in his game that hampered his progress. Beale himself admits that the wrong attitude held him back at first, playing alongside his boyhood idol Lote Tuquiri did little to calm nerves. However, a move to full back and change in physique proved to be the key to his development. Beale also touts his family and friends as a key influence on his rise to the top. This is all mightily impressive considering he only started playing full back a little over 16 months ago.
2012 will see another key milestone in Beale’s career. In a major blow to the Waratahs, Beale agreed to join Super Rugby surprise package Melbourne Rebels earlier this season in a two-year deal. Considering the Rebels were tipped to go through the new season struggling to pick up any points at all after cobbling together a team of ageing players and discards from other teams, they have since proved their worth with several wins and the signing of Beale and fellow rising Wallaby star James O’Connor who has had an equally impressive Super Rugby season.
The deal has provided a great deal of debate for many Aussie fans wondering how a team just one year old was able to sign players of such a high caliber. One of the key reasons for this is, fearing an already limited supply of Australian players, the ARU gave the Rebels special dispensation to sign 10 imports, whilst other Aussie teams are limited to just two (one marque and one development player). This was designed so that the Rebels were able to compete in their debut season, as well as stopping them from poaching talent from other Aussie teams. This was important for the Rebels as in the absence of an official salary cap, a gentleman’s agreement between teams concurred that players would not be paid more than $110,000 plus expenses with the exception of a wildcard player who could earn double this.
With a new salary cap at $4.4m, not only were the Rebels allowed to sign 10 foreign players, but they were valued at $147,000 under the cap, despite what they were actually paid by Melbourne. As the Rebels currently only boast 8 foreigners on their roster, this means they were saving almost $300,000 as they were not spending the full $1.47m on foreign imports. This left the Rebels with $2.93m to attract a further 20 Aussie players to fill their 30-man roster. This meant the Rebels were able to offer Beale $200,000 a year more than he could of earned at the Tahs. This, combined with the Rebels ability to help Beale expand his role as an indigenous ambassador.
With the Rugby World Cup just over a month away, this promises to be a key point in Beale’s career as he looks to establish himself as one of the most prominent full-backs in world rugby. With an exciting young Aussie squad playing fantastic rugby Beale could be a key component of their challenge for the championship. This is followed by an exciting Super Rugby season as he seeks to continue the Rebels impressive rise with the likes of Danny Cipriani and James O’Connor, whatever happens this seasons, it promises to be an exciting one wherever Beale is involved. How do you think his respective campaigns with the Wallabies and the Rebels will pan out? Who do you think is currently the best full-back in world rugby?
I work for social media agency mycleveragency, and am also a massive rugby fan (particularly Sale Sharks). You can find me on Twitter @DTNicoll.