An emotional Kurtley Beale ticked off a major personal milestone, but a greater challenge looms over the next few months when he re-joins a struggling Wallabies squad.
Beale on Monday helped launch the Wallabies’ Indigenous jersey to be worn against the All Blacks in Sydney in Bledisloe I, the backline flyer having only recently returned from his one-year stint with English club Wasps.
But not even a decent whack of jet-lag could prevent Beale from an appearance at Sydney’s Centre of Indigenous Excellence, the Wallabies star joining performers in an array of Aboriginal dances, before revealing just what the jersey meant to him.
“Pretty cool, it’s amazing… it’s obviously a very special symbol that recognises all the 14 [Indigenous] players that have played in the Wallaby jersey,” a teary Beale said. “So for me to stand here now and display it to the public, it’s a very special feeling and I’m very honoured to do so.”
Beale had been one of the key drivers in helping establish the jersey, the 60-Test veteran explaining how the AFL and NRL’s Indigenous rounds drove him to find a similar way to mark the Indigenous contribution to rugby.
“I see the other codes have an Indigenous round and I can just see the reaction from the Indigenous communities when Indigenous round is up,” he said. “And it’s always a special day, you see the Welcome to Country, the smoking ceremonies, the dancers out on the field and, like I said, I showed a bit of emotion before and when these guys were up here dancing, it’s a very powerful thing.
“And that’s when I really [tried to] put my foot forward to try and get the ARU behind the idea, and I’m just thankful and very glad that we’ve come to it and we’re able to do it and hopefully looking forward to continuing that in the years to come.”
While Beale played down the prospect of being a sure thing in Michael Cheika’s first Bledisloe Cup side, given the Wallabies coach’s hot pursuit of the 28-year-old back and his special link with the one-off strip it would be a huge surprise to see Beale not line up in the No.12 jersey on August 19.
Some concerns around a lack of conditioning – he hasn’t played since a hamstring injury in Wasps’ Aviva Premiership semifinal win on May 20 – and a lack of muscle in his leg stemming back to a serious knee injury in 2016, aside, Beale is one player who could spark what was at times a limp Wallabies attack during their June campaign.
The prospect of Beale joining another sidelined star, Samu Kerevi, in the midfield would be one of the few positives Wallabies fans could salvage as they look for signs of hope ahead of the now-customary Bledisloe heartache.
“Yeah obviously Samu’s an exciting player, I’m not quite sure how the combinations are there,” Beale said. “But I think we’ve got a lot of great players and whoever gets the opportunities they’ll definitely do a good job for us.
“But now that Karmichael [Hunt] is there as well, you’ve got Izzy [Israel Folau] that can play 13 as well, [Tevita] Kuridrani; so we’ve got some great talent in those positions. So I’m looking forward to battling it out with those guys and I guess helping each other to push for a successful first game.”
Beale drew rave reviews during his stint at Wasps, his free-running attack helping fire the club all the way to the final. But it was improvement in another area of the game that he believes has taken his play to “another level”.
“I feel like I’ve definitely grown with my knowledge in the game,” he said. “I learnt a lot off the coaching up there, I learnt a lot off the guys next to me, picking their brains and how to play the game. Obviously kicking game is very important at Test level and certainly I was very much involved in growing that part of my game.”