Kurtley Beale has produced a man-of-the-match performance in his return from a seven-month injury lay-off, helping Wasps to a European Champions Cup win on debut for the English rugby club.
Playing at inside centre, the Australian made an impact early when he crashed over to score a try from close range after seven minutes as the European heavyweights beat Pool Two rivals Connacht from Ireland 32-17 at home.
Despite a harsh sin-binning for a high tackle midway through the first half, Beale was named the best player on the field in his first outing for the Coventry-based side on Sunday (Monday morning AEDT).
Beale, 27, ruptured his patella tendon playing for NSW Waratahs in Super Rugby in May just 24 hours after signing a STG750,000 ($A1.3 million) a-year deal with the English club.
“There was a lot of emotion,” the 68-cap Wallaby said.
“Obviously there’s a lot of nerves – little bit of doubt here and there.
“But obviously I was really confident with the lads around me. The boys made it really easy to come in and just play my part for the team.
“There wasn’t much pressure at all really.”
Wasps were given a stern test by their opponents for large parts of the contest but kept their composure as No.8 Nathan Hughes, skipper Joe Launchbury and winger Josh Bassett also scored tries.
Fly-half Jimmy Gopperth kicked two penalties and three conversions to underpin the try-scoring bonus victory and moved three points clear of Connacht and four above Toulouse ahead of next week’s return fixture in Galway.
“Obviously it was great to cross the line,” Beale said.
“But overall I think it was a special win for us – to put ourselves top of the table for our pool for the European.
“There were times there where Connacht put a lot of pressure on our line but we just dug deep and found a way to get out of it.”
Beale’s contract – believed to be the most lucrative in the British domestic game – is a two-year agreement with a 12-month break clause option.
There was a huge cheer from the Wasps faithful at Ricoh Stadium as Beale was announced man of the match and the club’s rugby director Dai Young was full of praise.
“To go to the other side of the world to play rugby is difficult enough, but to arrive somewhere injured and having to work for six months (to recover) is really tough,” Young said.
“It’s testament to his strength of character that he has come through that.”