Kurtley Beale as playmaker for Australia is danger for England
He will be the key factor in the attacking structure of Michael Cheika side’s
Australia’s Kurtley Beale scores a try during the Autumn International at the Principality Stadium, Photograph: PA
Michael Cheika put his money on Kurtley Beale and now we are really seeing it paying off for Australia. He lost Matt Giteau, he lost Matt Toomua – two players who can really influence a game – so Cheika identified Beale as his go-to man and he will be the key factor in Australia’s attacking structure on Saturday.
Off the field, it looks as if he has really turned himself around – it would be interesting to know how much of a role Cheika has played in that – but the coach definitely saw how well Beale was playing at Wasps, in a team playing some very good, expansive, wide channel rugby, and he invested a lot in bringing him back.
I know how much of a fishbowl New Zealand can be but for these Australia rugby superstars it’s similar, especially if you’re living in the Sydney area. But it has been great to see Kurtley knuckle down because he’s got some fantastic skills. He’s a guy that sees the game so well and he’s flourished later on in his career. He came into the game early and he didn’t quite have the impact we thought he would but as he’s got older, he’s matured and he’s really making the most of it now.
When you look at the Australia lineup, we can talk about the game controllers with Will Genia and Bernard Foley at No9 and No10 and, on the face of it, given Cheika has gone with the battering rams in Samu Kerevi and Tevita Kuridrani in midfield – it looks like it’ll be tin-hat time for George Ford, Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph. But then you look at how Beale will fit in. He may have the No15 jersey on his back but I expect to him move in tighter and adopt more of playmaker role because he is a really important distributor for Australia. What you’ll then see is Kerevi and especially Kuridrani move a lot further out into the wider channels and that means Eddie Jones will be very wary of how Beale will influence the game.
With Beale coming in more, it means Kerevi and Kuridrani can be more dangerous in those wider channels and that can trouble England. If you look at the defensive system England operate – based on really good line speed but more so on the adjusting defender and the second tackler – it would suit them for Kerevi and Kuridrani to be battering rams through the middle. England would then back themselves defensively because of the non-distributing threat, to get up and shut them down as long as they’re making their chop tackles, but more importantly, coming in and stopping the offloads.
That’s the most dangerous thing about Kerevi and Kuridrani up the middle – the ability to break the gain line and get those offloads away. If the England defence stops that, all of a sudden the ability to get quick ball goes and it allows England’s defence to get on the front foot and really shut down the amount of space Genia and Foley have.
For England, the blueprint has to be James Haskell’s performances when they went down there and won the Test series 3-0 last year, that aggression he showed in defence, and Sam Underhill has that about him. We saw that kind of thing last weekend but the big difference then was that Argentina attacked from in close most of the time. Sam was allowed to be close to the ruck with a lot of defenders around him because there was not a lot of deception in Argentina’s attack. It was very easy to read, so Sam could get off the line and smash them.
Australia will test England’s defence differently and in wider channels. There’s a lot of movement, a lot of second-man plays, and running hard lines. You look at Michael Hooper out in the wider channels, running hard lines and linking up the play; whether he gets the ball or not, having a back row out wide spreads the defence a lot more. Those wider defenders are having to worry about big back rowers out there whereas Argentina didn’t do that, they were very predictable and England’s defence was allowed to get the right spacing and all they had to do was get off the line and tackle, get up and tackle again.
With Australia however, you’re going to see the point of attack moved, it’s not going to be off nine all of the time, it’s going to go through the forwards and out the back, all of a sudden out to Beale and the defence is going to have be wary of that. As long as they’re getting off the line and attacking the gain line though, it makes it very hard for Australia to get into their rhythm.
For the Australia half-backs, it is all about consistency. Give Genia time and space and he’s a world beater so can England limit that and really put him under pressure? They’ll need to ruffle him up, get in his face, hold him on the ground – they can’t allow him to get that free ride. All of sudden there’ll be that frustration and we know what Genia can be like when you get under his skin.
In the 2015 World Cup we saw what Foley can do. That day against England he had time and space and he kicked his goals. Twickenham can be a tough place to kick, even when there’s no wind. It doesn’t seem to worry Farrell too much so that’s probably me making excuses, but Foley needs to build scoreboard pressure because you have to kick your goals against England. If you do that, the crowd can go silent because there’s an expectation there now to win regardless of who they are playing.
For him it’s a big confidence boost. If he gets his first couple of kicks over, it tends to mean he’s going to have a good game. The pressure will be on if he misses his first one – it can affect how his attacking mindset is. That first kick will be key.
– Guardian Service
ENGLAND: A Watson; J May, J Joseph, O Farrell, E Daly; G Ford, B Youngs; M Vunipola, D Hartley (capt), D Cole; J Launchbury, C Lawes; C Robshaw, S Underhill, N Hughes.
Replacements: Jamie George, Joe Marler, Harry Williams, Maro Itoje, Sam Simmonds, Danny Care, Henry Slade, Semesa Rokoduguni.
AUSTRALIA: K Beale; M Koroibete, T Kuridrani, S Kerevi, R Hodge; B Foley, W Genia; S Sio, T Polota-Nau, S Kepu; R Simmons, B Enever; N Hanigan, M Hooper (capt), S McMahon.
Replacements: S Moore, T Robertson, A Alaalatoa, M Philip, B McCalman, L Timani, N Phipps, K Hunt.