Kurtley Beale has welcomed the hot competition for a Wallabies midfield role as Matt Giteau ups the pressure on Michael Cheika to revive his glittering international career.
Cheika already admitted he’d been in touch with Giteau even before the 32-year-old helped Toulon to an unprecedented Champions Cup hat-trick at Twickenham on Saturday.
The Wallabies coach will include a maximum of 14 backs in his 31-man World Cup squad this year – and more than likely only 13 to accommodate 18 forwards.
He is certain to take at least two halfbacks to Britain – and three if he rules Giteau out as a back-up No.9 – plus probably five players capable of filling the back-three positions.
Throw in Tevita Kuridrani as a specialist outside centre and that leaves Giteau, Beale, Bernard Foley, Matt Toomua, Christian Lealiifano, Quade Cooper and utility James O’Connor battling it out for presumably four or five playmaking spots.
But rather than fret about losing out to Giteau, Beale says it’s great to have the 92-Test star back in the mix following the ARU’s decision to relax its strict policy of not selecting overseas-based players.
“He’s one of the best players who’s ever played for Australia and still is probably one of the best first-fives in the world playing currently,” Beale told AAP.
“For him playing over there, winning consecutive seasons, I’m sure he’s got a lot of experience there and a lot to learn from.
“And for me as a kid growing up, you always want to play against some of the best and you always want to test yourself against some of the best.
“So to have him available now, that creates a lot of healthy competition throughout the whole first-five, second-five options and that’s important because they’re the generals out there on the field.”
Cheika assembled more than two dozen World Cup hopefuls on Saturday for a “morning-after” meeting following his NSW Waratahs’ spirited 13-10 win over the Brumbies in Canberra.
It was the latest in a series of similar gatherings and Brumbies captain Stephen Moore backed Cheika’s initiative to try to break down barriers between Australia’s state rivals.
“Since that type of thing started, I think we’ve certainly developed some mutual respect there amongst each other and we’re going to need that at the back-end of the year,” Moore said.
“We’ll all be on the same page there.”
Cheika invited 51 players from around the country to a three-day camp in Brisbane last month, but isn’t ruling out calling up others if it means strengthening Australia’s World Cup hopes.
“Obviously some players, as it gets closer, will know they’re going to be in so they can start to prepare,” he said.
“But there’s no advantage to close the door on anyone at this stage. The door only has to be closed when the team is finally picked for any given game.
“It’s all about playing good footy. That’s what you’ve got to try and select teams off and if people play good rugby then they’re going to get noticed.”
The two biggest World Cup certainties, barring injuries, are incumbent Wallabies captain Michael Hooper and former leader David Pocock.
The two flankers waged a hearty duel in Canberra on Friday night that ended in a split decision.
“The reason they are top quality players is because they play great every week. That’s the difference between good players and great ones,” Cheika said.
“You can’t have enough players like that.”