Kurtley Beale’s rollercoaster Wallabies career reaches a milestone as the enigmatic back prepares to play his 50th Test this weekend and coach Michael Cheika believes his best rugby is still to come.
Signed by the Waratahs as a 16-year-old schoolboy, Beale’s dazzling skills have too often been dimmed by his off-field antics.
Named on the bench to face the Pumas on Saturday in Mendoza, 26-year-old Beale’s selection continues a story of redemption after his career almost ended at the same Argentine city last year.
Beale’s verbal altercation with Di Patston on the 2014 flight to Argentina almost led to his sacking when the lewd text message he’d sent to her previously emerged as a simmering issue.
While team business manager Patston and then-coach Ewen McKenzie are long gone in the wake of the upheaval, Beale – who was fined $45,000 by the ARU – is ready to stake his claim for a berth at a second World Cup.
Beale said he’d learned not to take anything for granted and to appreciate the position that he was in.
“The opportunity to be back in the squad is a great honour and I’m very grateful for Cheik to give me another crack and it’s now up to me to do my part for the team,” Beale said.
“There’s no better feeling than to play for my country.
“When you don’t have the opportunity to pull on a jersey it’s heart-breaking.”
Beale has blossomed with the stability of playing under Cheika at the NSW Waratahs and for Australia.
Cheika said he was an unabashed fan of the utility back and loved the passion he had for his country.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that I like the way Kurtley plays rugby,” Cheika said.
“He’s a very exciting player and the versatility he brings to the game is really important for us because he can come in and create something for us in several roles in the backline.”
The coach didn’t want to whitewash Beale’s off-field indiscretions, which also included a drunken bust-up with a Melbourne Rebels teammate in South Africa and a stint in rehabilitation.
But he said Beale still deserved praise.
“I know he’s had his ups and downs.
“I don’t want to try and paint a rosy picture but from my end he’s been a pleasure to coach.
“Our relationship’s always been really respectful between coach and player and friends as well.”
Cheika felt Beale still had plenty more to give to his country.
“He’s got more potential; he’s got more room to improve without a doubt.”