Beale feels for Halfpenny but glad series is alive
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — After the tumultuous week he’d had, Kurtley Beale really didn’t need Leigh Halfpenny’s stoppage-time penalty goal to clinch a series win for the British and Irish Lions in the second test.
“I was praying a little bit there. I just knew deep down, obviously I was in the position last week,” he said. “It’s a massive kick and there’s a lot of things going through your head. ”
In an almost mirror finish to the first test, when Beale missed a 46-meter penalty attempt that would have won the match for Australia as the siren sounded, Halfpenny’s effort from the halfway line faded, allowing the Wallabies to escape with a 16-15 win and send the series to a decider in Sydney.
“It’s a big ask, but he’s been striking the ball all series very well,” Beale said. “We’re just very lucky in the end.”
Beale had been quickly consoled by teammates in Brisbane, only his second match of any consequence in 2013 after a season derailed by injuries, suspension and counseling for alcohol-related issues. A few nights later he was out with Wallabies teammate James O’Connor and a photograph of the pair with a Lions fan in a fast-food outlet at 4 a.m. was published in the British media, sparking questions about their professionalism and maturity.
While the Australian Rugby Union said the players weren’t drinking and didn’t break any rules, the late finish was frowned upon in such an important week.
It could have been the final straw for Wallabies coach Robbie Deans, who had quietly ushered the young utility player back into his squad despite his lack of match practice, no doubt hoping his show of faith would be rewarded with some of the indescribable qualities that the likes of Beale can bring to a team.
Part of his quality is an ability to perform despite the kind of distractions that would derail so many elite athletes.
“I haven’t really thought about it much,” Beale said of his own missed kick in Brisbane. “I just sort of obviously had to keep moving on. I had to keep upbeat and keep my body language ‘up’ and I felt I did that.
“Obviously it did affect me a little bit, but in life you’ve got to go forward and it’s the same like in rugby. You’ve got to bounce back and we got a great opportunity last night.”
Deans said it was fitting “that we’ve got a finale in Sydney because I think it would have been pretty harsh for either side to be out of the series at this point.”
At a Sunday morning news conference, a laid-back looking Beale kept it simple when he explained how he was feeling.
“I’m a very lucky man, to be back as part of this special group,” he said. “To be a part of it is amazing. I’m very grateful.
“Now it’s up to me to be actually doing my role within the team and trying to help out where ever I can. Obviously it’s a big game next week.”
Deans injected, completely unprompted, to add a character reference for his sometimes wayward star.
“The group is lucky to have Kurtley as well. As much as he’s lucky to be here, we’re lucky to have him,” said Deans, who has put his Wallabies coaching career on the line with his selections for this series. “He’s a quality bloke in the group who has some unique capabilities.”
Of Beale’s well documented off-field issues, which came to a head when he was sent home from a tour of South Africa after getting into a fight with Melbourne Rebels teammates, Deans said he was “absolutely” impressed with Beale’s resilience.
“Everyone’s got different things going on their life, but Kurtley’s has been very public,” Deans said. “So to stand up to that sort of scrutiny, and also to perform on a very public stage, is a good effort.”
Beale has been groomed for representative rugby since his early teenage years, when he was a star well beyond his age. He quickly graduated to the senior ranks and made his Wallabies debut in 2009, earning a reputation as a potentially game-breaker from many positions for his high-risk, high-reward style of game.
Deans has been around rugby his entire life, starting in New Zealand where his family has long been part of the sport’s scene on the South Island, then as an All Black, as a successful coach of powerful Canterbury provincial teams, and assistant coach for New Zealand and then as the first foreigner appointed as head coach of the Wallabies in 2008.
He has tended to invest time and energy into players with rare talents. He persevered with Quade Cooper as No. 10 for the World Cup despite some form concerns, but hasn’t selected him since the Queensland Reds playmaker’s comments late last year about the “toxic” environment in the Wallabies camp. He has ignored heavy criticism to stick with relatively untried O’Connor at 10 for this series.
So while he admitted he’d let both players know what he thought of their late night out, he knows he couldn’t guarantee there won’t be future indiscretions from a team comprising so many young men.
“You know the industry,” he said. “The critical thing is how you respond. It’s like the game. Things are never totally as you’d anticipate or as you hope, but you’ve got to cope — you’ve got to adapt and push on.
“I’d be reasonably confident it won’t happen again — wouldn’t be a good scene for these blokes if it did, or the team.”