NSW Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson says his gifted utility back Kurtley Beale can be the Wallabies’ five-eighth this season after naming him in the crucial playmaking role for Saturday’s Super Rugby opening-round clash with Queensland.
The Waratahs’ starting side includes three men on debut for the Sydney-based franchise, All Blacks winger Zac Guildford, fellow New Zealander and prop Angus Taavao and young inside centre David Horwitz.
Former NRL winger Reece Robinson and ex Melbourne Rebels five-eighth Bryce Hegarty are also poised to make their Waratahs debuts after landing bench spots.
Only five of the team that ran on in the Tahs’ last Super Rugby game will start in the same position, as they did in that losing semi-final against the Highlanders.
Four more players from that side will start in different spots, with Beale moving from inside centre to No.10, Rob Horne from wing to outside centre, Matt Carraro from inside centre to wing, and Dave Dennis from lock to blindside flanker.
Beale had played in the No.12 jersey for the past two seasons, but started his career with the Tahs at five-eighth and played there throughout the trials as Bernard Foley rested after a stint in Japan.
With incumbent Wallabies five-eighth Foley sidelined for at least the first three rounds by a shoulder injury, Beale will run the show with Gibson opting for a second playmaker in Horwitz.
“He (Beale) has shown over the trials that he can be Australia’s starting fly half – I certainly believe that,” Gibson said on Wednesday.
“He’s come back from the World Cup a different person. I believe he’s grown and certainly matured and that kind of maturity leads to being in charge of a team and being at No.10.”
Gibson said Beale would have started at five-eighth even if Foley had been fit.
“The plan all along was to keep KB (Beale) there for consistency and David (Horwitz) started all trials at 12,” Gibson said.
“Bernard was coming back from Japan probably a little underdone and under prepared so, in a way, the line-up we’ve got is one that I planned from the start.”
Former Australian schoolboy and under 20 representative Horwitz, 21, was the Sydney rugby club player of 2015, playing mostly at five-eighth before this season.
“He’s been a young player of promise for a number of years now and I felt, with Dave giving us an extra ball player, it was an easy decision,” Gibson said.
He said Guildford had been one of the Tahs’ best performers during the pre-season.
“He’s turned up in good shape and he’s earned the respect of his teammates first and foremost,” Gibson said.
NSW: Israel Folau, Matt Carraro, Rob Horne, David Horwitz, Zac Guildford, Kurtley Beale, Nick Phipps, Jed Holloway, Michael Hooper (capt), David Dennis, Will Skelton, Dean Mumm, Angus Taavao, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Paddy Ryan. Res: Tolu Latu, Benn Robinson, Jeremy Tilse, Sam Lousi, Jack Dempsey, Matt Lucas, Bryce Hegarty, Reece Robinson.