Beale haunts Blues
BLUES coach Pat Lam can't get away from the Waratahs. Even at home they are seared in his psyche as his children extol the skills of Kurtley Beale.
His kids are huge fans of the versatile Beale and disconcerted the Blues are primed to end his and the Tahs' playoff run tomorrow at Eden Park.
The visitors have been hit by a slew of new injuries this week, including the discovery on arrival in Auckland that halfback Luke Burgess had broken his hand and - air travel permitting - would return home.
Meanwhile the Blues made one change to their starting side, recalling regular halfback Alby Mathewson and bringing the repaired Daniel Braid into the reserves.
It was, said Lam, an easy side to choose because, like the Waratahs, they had few alternatives at this stage of the season. He was getting some domestic grief, though, about nobbling Beale and the Tahs.
"He has X-factor, he's a quality player, my kids like him," Lam said. "Ten or 15, he's going to be a threat. He will run the game for them. He's a dangerous player we need to try to shut down."
Beale will shift into five-eighths tomorrow as the Waratahs deal with injuries to Daniel Halangahu and Berrick Barnes and the late withdrawal of Burgess, while the front row has become a juggling act to plug the absence of Tatafu Polota-Nau and Al Baxter.
"I think there is more responsibility on me to control the game whereas in the last few weeks I have been able to just pop up anywhere and hold on the edges a fair bit but now it is my turn to step up and take control of the game," Beale said.
The Waratahs had a game plan which would still suit his flair although he would have to be more selective in his plays. Even when he played at fullback he would slip into five-eighths so not much would alter.
He needed to guide the forwards round Eden Park and would have the guidance of Tom Carter beside him and that of his captain, Phil Waugh, who missed the side's round-robin match and was leaving the first-class rugby scene this year.
Lam and the Blues were switched on, noting the rise in excitement at reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2007. They had tried to think of all eventualities from the need for dropped goals to coping with extra time.
Left wing Lachie Munro would goalkick again because he thrived on the pressure and had kicked extremely well in tough conditions.
The Blues were not fazed by their lack of information on several possible Waratahs recruits.
"It will come down to the teamwork they use," Lam said. "Our scouting is minimal but it is more about team patterns and structures.
"Our focus really is about us firing shots and really giving it a good crack, that is more important for us."
The Blues' concentration would be on performing the basics well, sorting their set-piece, remembering what they had gleaned from their four recent defeats and doing what was needed to win. There were no bonus points on offer, the target was just outscoring the Waratahs.
The Blues belted the Waratahs 31-17 midway through the series but did not score after halftime while the Waratahs collected 10 points. Both sides have lost men from that match: Isaia Toeava, Rene Ranger and Kurtis Haiu for the Blues while Drew Mitchell, Halangahu, Burgess, Sekope Kepu and Polota-Nau are missing from the Tahs.
"That's in the past, finals footy is a new ball game, we have come here to do a job," said Beale. He thought he was a different player from his initial foray into Super rugby. He hoped so.
"As a youngster I just wanted to score from every play, now I pick and choose my moment. I think that has been my big move."
He and the Tahs wanted to keep their run going for Waugh, who had been a great team man and encouragement throughout his career.
"When you get to finals football anything can happen. The Blues are an exciting team but we are pretty confident we can match them up front," said Beale speaking like a true five-eighths.