Kurtley Beale’s Influence
Kurtley Beale is regarded as one of the best players in the world, and despite his recent injury that could easily have ended his career, it is easy to see why.
He manages to do incredible things on the rugby pitch. Not just the lines he picks, the spaces he sees, but also the way he uses the ball and does things no-one else would consider.
It is this very ability that set up Wasps first try against Bristol this weekend.
Simpson lifts the ball quickly from a ruck and passes it straight to Kurtley Beale. Beale takes a fraction of a second to look, and makes the decision to run. He can see he has support if he needs it, Phil Swainston is the next man in the line, and so if Beale goes down he knows he has a prop with him to prevent the turnover. He drops his weight and runs an intersecting line towards the Bristol defence.
Bristol however have got their confidence up after scoring earlier, and know the threat Kurtley Beale presents so double tackle him. And this is where the magic happens.
Beale can clearly see he is not going to make it through the line this time, and so decided to offload. Somehow he manages to pop an arm out of the mass of limbs surrounding him and without dropping the ball flicks it perfectly into Swainston’s hands.
Swainston spins, and offloads the ball to Bassett exactly as a forward should – back to the tackle, both hands on the ball, and the rest is history.
Lets look at it again from a different angle.
It’s even more impressive from the front. There is no way anyone whould have the freedom to move the ball around that Beale somehow creates.
And it is exactly this ability that caused the first try for Bristol against us.
When George Smith was with Wasps he not only played brilliantly well, but he also changed the way Wasps played. He lead both by example, and by directly showing other players how to do the things he did. It revolutionized our game, and in particular catapulted Thomas Young from being a promising benchwarmer, to a genuine international contender. Kurtley Beale has done exactly the same thing. But instead of the rest of the squad picking up on the judgement and wiley cunning of Smith, they are picking up on the astonishing ball skills of Beale.
The problem with that, is that if it goes wrong, it tends to go wrong much more spectacularly than just failing to get a turnover. Let’s look at that Bristol try again.
Joe Launchbury sees the ball is free and snatches it up. This is one of the things he does better than anyone else in the world. He seems to simply know by instinct where the ball is and whether he is allowed to take it. Whether it is in the ruck, defending a maul, or in open play like this. He spins, and sets off down the field. The turnover is won and Wasps are on the charge, however when he is tackled, instead of going down and recycling the ball he does a “Beale”. He spins, and offloads it with one hand to Simpson. It isn’t a pretty pass, and it’s certainly not up their with Beale’s offloads, but it works.
Simpson passes it immediately to Thompson who is recently back from injury and not only playing very well, but also fighting for his starting place. He makes some ground before running into the Bristol defence that is starting to creak. Instead of taking the contact and trusting that his teammates will recycle the ball quickly he too attempts a “Beale”. But this time it doesn’t quite go according to plan.
A Bristol player gets a hand to it, somehow manages to avoid being penalised for a definite knock on, and the try is scored.
I have no doubt that Kurtley Beale would have managed the offload, but I also have little doubt that the ball would never had got to Thompson if Launchbury hadn’t also been influenced by Beale in training and on the match field.
It is clear that having a player of Beale’s quality changes the way the team plays. It inspires people, and lets them see what is possible. And it is this very style of play, that pushes the boundaries of what is possible on the field that makes Wasps such an amazing team to watch.
I have no doubt that Beale’s presence has not only lifted the team by his skill on the pitch, but also by lifting the skills of every single player in the squad. That is why he is worth every penny Wasps have spent on getting him here, and it is why Wasps are still top of the table with only a few games to play.
Sadly its also why sometimes players do things that seem silly to those of us sitting and watching. But let’s just say that Thompson’s crazy one handed offload had worked. He had Bassett, Daly, and leRoux on his shoulder, with only one defender to beat. It would have been the sort of try that would have been in his highlight reel for the rest of his career.
So keep trying the one handed offloads, the bizarre running angles, and the dainty chips that fail as often as they succeed. Because they are what make us special. And long after Kurtley Beale has left, his legacy will remain in the way we play.
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