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Brett McKay
Brett McKay | Columnist Index
One of the new breed of Australian online rugby writers, Brett McKay joins ESPNscrum.com having developed a popular presence on sports opinion site The Roar. He also tweets from @BMcSport.
The Whiteboard
The magic of the 'Amazing Kurtley Beale'
Brett McKay
March 27, 2014
Brett McKay dissects key plays that will have a major bearing on the Super Rugby title © Scrum.com
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We made mention on The Whiteboard a couple of weeks back that the New South Wales Waratahs outside backs were loving the fact they could almost "disappear", like magic, with so much defensive focus on the likes of Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and, especially, Israel Folau.

So was the case in the Waratahs-Melbourne Rebels match in Sydney last Friday night, when the focus was honed on Kurtley Beale, in particular, to such an extent that even Folau could disappear and reappear at times. There were obviously several reasons for this: Beale was keen to put one over his former team; but the Rebels were equally keen to show him what he'd left, and how they don't really miss him at all.

Both Folau's tries came about because the Rebels over-defended against Beale. In both cases, Beale found himself double- and even triple-teamed, thus freeing up massive space in the middle of the field for Folau to drive the proverbial truck through. With that massive grin like he does when he tryline-bound. But those tries were too obvious to pull apart this week, and, let's be honest, Folau's not exactly short of publicity at the moment. Instead, I'm going to look more closely at the Waratahs' second try of the night, to Peter Betham; it was the the try that busted open what had to that point been a pretty torrid defensive affair.

Waratahs 32-8 Rebels (video available only in Australia)
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In the first few minutes of the second half, the game was following a similar script: a couple of phases out of your own 22, clearing kick, and repeat. The Waratahs received a penalty advantage early in their couple of phases coming out of trouble - a very long advantage in fact - before Jaco Peyper eventually pinged the Rebels from being offside at the ruck. The Tahs kicked for touch, and they had an attacking lineout around 35 metres from the Rebels' line.

The Waratahs then went for a short lineout; this clearly wasn't a driving maul set-up, and so the extra Rebels forwards dropped back into the defensive line.

Kane Douglas took the lineout throw, jumping at No.2, and Nick Phipps, from the clean take and hand-off, passed straight to Beale standing at first receiver. Beale had around him Betham and a trailing Michael Hooper, to his left, and Adam Ashley-Cooper to his right. All three are ball-carriers, so this should have been pretty obvious to the Rebels that Beale was going to take on the line and offload to one of his runners. Foley had the rest of the backline set out to Beale's right, but this would also have fairly obviously been to set up for the subsequent ruck, possibly even to take advantage of a mismatch out wide, where Rebels forwards were marking Waratah backs.

Beale did indeed take it to the line, but he had his mind made up for him as to which direction he would find his support runner by a series of defensive mistakes.

Beale was marked comfortably by Rebels hooker Pat Leafa, directly in front of him. To Leafa's left, Beale's right, Ashley-Cooper was covered by Rebels flanker Sean McMahon, who had come up faster than had Luke Burgess, creating a staggered line that essentially forced Beale to play to his left.

When Beale did go left, well this is what unfolded.

Kurtley Beale put Peter Betham into a yawning gap to break open the match against Melbourne Rebels © Scrum.com
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Rebels lock Hugh Pyle was slow to react from the lineout. Scrum-half Burgess was also too focused on Beale, but he realised at the last minute that he should have been further in, marking either Betham or Hooper. Rebels replacement prop Max Lahiff was similarly too late reacting in the background, realising he too should've been marking one of the inside runners.

The combination of Burgess and Lahiff over-committing on the outside and Pyle's lack of urgency on the inside opened up the yawning gap on the inside, for which Beale only had to find a runner. And as quick as Hooper might be over 40 metres, Betham was always going to be the best bet; Betham also was sharp enough to see it unfolding in front of him, to the point that he was accelerating as Beale's pass found him. This acceleration is a key factor, too, as it had such an effect that Burgess and Lahiff ended up clutching at thin air. Once through the front line, Betham only had to pin the ears back.

Rebels replacement back Tom Kingston, also playing against his old side, had no chance of stopping Betham at pace - not from his standing start - and the Waratahs winger gladly took the space offered on the outside and left his counterpart clutching at nothing, too.

It was a clever play on so many fronts.

Beale was clever enough to have recognised by this stage that he was the focus of the Rebels' defence, and he called the play perfectly. He just needed the running options and to rely on the Rebels to over-commit. Both boxes were ticked for him.

Later in the half, Beale pulled the same trick so well in broken play that he made Folau "reappear" in massive previously non-existent inside holes as well.

Clever plays from a clever player.

The question now, and the big challenge for the Waratahs in Durban this weekend, will be to pull the same rabbits in front of a much better defensive set-up. If the Sharks fall to the "Amazing Kurtley Beale" once, there won't be a second or third act.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
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