Kurtley Beale returns as Rebels beat Waratahs
February 1, 2014
Kurtley Beale made a successful return against his former side. © Getty Images
Melbourne Rebels reaped the rewards of a tough pre-season as they surged home to overcome New South Wales Waratahs 33-28 on Saturday in their Super Rugby trial.
With the temperature hitting plus-40C at Albury Sports Ground and the game played in quarters, the Rebels scored three tries in the third period to set up the win. Melbourne had never previously won a trial game in their three years in the Super Rugby competition, but, thanks to a gruelling pre-season campaign under new coach Tony McGahan, they powered home.
Rebel-turned-Tah Kurtley Beale played three quarters in his first match back from a shoulder reconstruction. The Wallabies utility back rejoined the Waratahs after a tumultuous two years in Melbourne, where he battled disciplinary and alcohol-related issues. His Test season ended in June with a shoulder injury but Beale looked fit in his return and he produced some nice offloads in a busy game. Beale played the opening half at five-eighth and then moved to fullback for the third quarter. Regular fullback Israel Folau, who only recently returned to training due to the Wallabies' tour in late 2013, ran the water for his team.
Melbourne trailed 21-12 at half-time, with NSW halfback Brendan McKibbin opening the scoring for his team. The try of the half was set up by Rebels skipper Scott Higginbotham, who showed his rugby smarts to take a quick tap from a penalty and grubber the ball down field. Scrum-half Ben Meehan won the 40m race to the ball to close the lead to 14-12, but former Wallabies back-rower Stephen Hoiles, playing for a NSW contract, extended that to 19-12 with a try just before half-time.
Bryce Hegarty started at fly-half for the Rebels in the second half and sparked the attack as he sidestepped his way through for a try. Fullback Jason Woodward converted and then crossed for a try of his own to give his team the lead for the first time in the match. Former Waratahs player Tom English scored after the three-quarter time hooter in his first match for his new team. Another former Rebel Peter Betham crossed for a late try, converted by Bernard Foley, but the Waratahs couldn't close the gap.
Rebels coach McGahan was delighted for his players that they were able to secure the well-deserved win.
"It was hard to get a read on it because both sides used 30 odd players but, for us, we want to develop a winning culture and this was a part of it," he said.
He praised the work of his back-row, whose plentiful turnovers were crucial to the victory with Wallaby Higginbotham - returning from shoulder and hip surgery - leading the way.
"He played himself really hard and, the way he has trained, he was able to transfer that to the game."
NSW coach Michael Cheika felt his side needed to improve at the breakdown but was satisfied with the performance.
"I just wanted them to get a hit out," he said. "There was a couple of areas where we struggled a bit. We didn't have a lot of ball and, when we did, we looked good but we struggled a bit on attacking ruck and turnover defence. All in all, that's the first one down and we got what we wanted from the week."
Cheika also gave Hoiles cause for optimism, saying: ''He has earned a shot at another go at it.'' That prompted a smile from Hoiles, who said: ''It's nice to hear … It's going to be like that for a while. I just have to keep plugging away."