Nick Phipps tips Kurtley Beale to shine in centres

Ready: Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau at Waratahs training. Photo: Mark Nolan
Ready: Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau at Waratahs training. Photo: Mark Nolan

Kurtley Beale's long-running halves partner Nick Phipps has backed the Test playmaker to be successful in his move to inside-centre in the Waratahs opening Super Rugby game against the Force this week.

Beale will start in the midfield with Adam Ashley-Cooper, pairing up with five-eighth Bernard Foley and halfback Phipps in an attacking line-up designed to penetrate the Force's trademark defence.

Phipps, who was the Rebels' starting halfback when Beale played regularly in Melbourne, said he believed his now-Waratahs' teammate was "almost at his best" again after a tumultuous 12 months and would have no troubles pulling his weight in defence on Sunday.

"I reckon he's almost at his best again, he's very very close," Phipps said. "He's an exciting player and in the trials, whether he was playing No. 10, No. 12 or fullback, whenever the ball got in his hand he was quick on his feet, challenging the defenders and then when he's defending he's holding his own in that 12 spot.

"He's putting some good shots on side, I don't think he's worried about his shoulder [reconstructed last year] anymore."

Coach Michael Cheika used Beale and Foley in the same combination throughout the pre-season trials, with Matt Carraro, Ashley-Cooper or Jono Lance defending in the midfield when Beale lurked out back with Israel Folau.

Cheika warned the partnership needed - and would be given - time to develop, but said he had always intended using both at the same time.

"They're both running players so they can both fill a role where they can attack the defensive line and so the idea that you [could have] too many playmakers and not enough runners, to me, doesn't apply," he said. "You have guys that like to run with the ball . . . and you have guys who can play ball as well. They can mix and match [on either side of the ruck] when they want to, or they can play together."

Beale's move to inside-centre has been on the cards for sometime, unlike a few of the selection surprises in Tuesday's team announcement.

Rookie winger Alofa Alofa, who was playing club rugby for West Harbour last year, has beaten incumbent Cam Crawford to a spot in the starting side, while 21-year-old Will Skelton will start ahead of Jacques Potgieter in the second row, alongside Kane Douglas.

Tighthead prop Paddy Ryan also trumped veteran Wallaby Sekope Kepu and will start alongside Benn Robinson at loosehead and Tatafu Polota-Nau. "[Skelton] is still young so he's finding his feet around what he can and can't do, he's clearly getting a handle on what he has to do, but these guys are not going to get the chance to show their wares unless I give them runs," Cheika said.

"They have had good enough form to me - if I'm going to say form is key then these guys have to play."

Wycliff Palu will be one to watch in a vintage NSW back row featuring captain Dave Dennis and John Eales Medallist Michael Hooper.

The hulking No. 8 has never looked fitter and will need every ounce of conditioning if he is to get the better of Force stalwarts Matt Hodgson and Ben McCalman.

Cheika named a 10-man bench, with decisions to be made between Stephen Hoiles and Pat McCutcheon, and Matt Carraro and Cam Crawford.

This story Nick Phipps tips Kurtley Beale to shine in centres first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.