AFTER the tumultuous week he’d had, Kurtley Beale really didn’t need Leigh Halfpenny’s stoppage-time penalty goal to clinch a series win for the British and Irish Lions in the second Test.
“I was praying a little bit there. I just knew deep down, obviously I was in the position last week,” he said. “It’s a massive kick and there’s a lot of things going through your head.”
In an almost mirror finish to the first Test, when Beale missed a 46-metre penalty attempt that would have won the match for Australia as the siren sounded, Halfpenny’s effort from the halfway line faded, allowing the Wallabies to escape with a 16-15 win and send the series to a decider in Sydney.
“It’s a big ask, but he’s been striking the ball all series very well,” Beale said. “We’re just very lucky in the end.”
Beale had been quickly consoled by team-mates in Brisbane, only his second match of any consequence in 2013 after a season derailed by injuries, suspension and counselling for alcohol-related issues. A few nights later he was out with Wallabies team-mate James O’Connor and a photograph of the pair with a Lions fan in a fast-food outlet at 4am was published in the British media, sparking questions about their professionalism and maturity.
While the Australian Rugby Union said the players weren’t drinking and didn’t break any rules, the late finish was frowned upon in such an important week.
It could have been the final straw for Wallabies coach Robbie Deans, who had quietly ushered the young utility player back into his squad despite his lack of match practice, no doubt hoping his show of faith would be rewarded with some of the indescribable qualities that the likes of Beale can bring to a team.
Part of his quality is an ability to perform despite the kind of distractions that would derail so many elite athletes. “I haven’t really thought about it much,” Beale said of his own missed kick in Brisbane. “I just sort of obviously had to keep moving on. I had to keep upbeat and keep my body language ‘up’ and I felt I did that. Obviously it did affect me a little bit, but in life you’ve got to go forward and it’s the same like in rugby. You’ve got to bounce back and we got a great opportunity last night.”
Deans said it was fitting “that we’ve got a finale in Sydney because I think it would have been pretty harsh for either side to be out of the series at this point.”
At yesterday’s news conference, a laid-back looking Beale kept it simple when he explained how he was feeling. “I’m a very lucky man, to be back as part of this special group,” he said. “To be a part of it is amazing. I’m very grateful. Now it’s up to me to be actually doing my role within the team and trying to help out wherever I can. Obviously it’s a big game next week.”
Deans injected, completely unprompted, to add a character reference for his sometimes wayward star. “The group is lucky to have Kurtley as well. As much as he’s lucky to be here, we’re lucky to have him,” said Deans, who has put his Wallabies coaching career on the line with his selections for this series. “He’s a quality bloke in the group who has some unique capabilities.”
Of Beale’s well documented off-field issues, which came to a head when he was sent home from a tour of South Africa after getting into a fight with Melbourne Rebels team-mates, Deans said he was “absolutely” impressed with Beale’s resilience.
“Everyone’s got different things going on their life, but Kurtley’s has been very public,” Deans said. “So to stand up to that sort of scrutiny, and also to perform on a very public stage, is a good effort.”