UPDATED: Kurtley Beale said a surplus of versatile backs can be the Waratahs' competitive advantage in 2019 after it was revealed the star no.12 would partner with Karmichael Hunt in a new midfield.
Beale is returning for NSW on Saturday in Japan after being rested for the Waratahs’ first-up loss against the Hurricanes at Brookvale Oval, where his no.12 replacement – Hunt – performed strongly.
The potential selection headache for coach Daryl Gibson was somewhat removed, however, with outside centre Adam Ashley-Cooper suffering a head knock.
NSW assistant coach Simon Cron told media on Tuesday that Hunt will shift across to no.13 for the clash with the Tokyo-based Sunwolves.
“As you saw from Karmichael’s game at the weekend, he’s pretty solid, both defensively and in attack. He’ll add a lot wherever he plays for us," NSW assistant coach Simon Cron said.
Beale, who was frustrated to rest in round one but also understanding of the reasons why, welcomed the arrival of Hunt to the Waratahs and said he was excited to play with him.
"K had a really great game at the weekend, and really laid that platform to gain the advantage," Beale said.
"And his defence was pretty special as well. It’s great to have that competition in among this group.
"He just has a really good head on his shoulders on how to read the game, so he can even pop into first five there. We are very lucky to have him.
"No doubt he can slot into 15 or 13 at any time."
AAC is set to fly with the team to Japan but be a travelling reserve.
Israel Folau expressed a willingness to move to the wing if Gibson wanted to play Beale or Hunt at fullback, and Beale conceded he too would shift spots if it was for the good of the team.
But numbers on backs haven’t correlated with increased or decreased involvement for several years, according to Beale.
"As a back, in the modern game, a lot of guys interchange their positions throughout the game," Beale said.
"If you look at the multi-phase attacks over the last five or six years, a lot of plays and a lot of inside players are in the outside channels and outside players on the inside channels.
"It is a really big advantage for us to have guys who can play all over the park. It is a bit of a strength for us and it’s great that Daryl can have those players all on the field at the same time, to take advantage of that. We could use that as an advantage."
Gibson explained Hunt's recruitment as a device to help Beale, Folau and Bernard Foley reduce their workload this year, after playing every game and being "gassed" at the end of last season.
Beale admitted he grew weary last year and endorsed the plans to rest players throughout Super Rugby this season.
"It does catch up to you later in the year. The period it was quite tough was when the Irish games were also implemented in the Super Rugby. That was my first experience of the scheduling and obviously two different arenas, and it takes a toll on the body," he said.
"Obviously towards the end of the year, it did take a bit of a toll mentally. But this is a nice plan that Rugby Australia and Cheik have come up with to get the best out of the players at the end of the year."
Cron said Hunt’s defensive work, and strength in contact zones, had made him an excellent off-season recruit.
“His trials and first game were really good, “ Cron said.
“He’s really good in contact, he makes that first hit and then keeps going. Which is great for us. Also his ruck and roll at the breakdown is really solid. If anyone gets on the ball in that midfield he cleans out really hard. All hs contact zone stuff is brilliant, and that’s important for us, both in attack and defence. He’s been a great addition.”
The Waratahs were rueing a missed opportunity to beat the Canes, the NSW forwards coach said.
“The boys are pretty gutted,” Cron added.
“We had a few opportunities where we should have capitalised and won that. But we didn’t, so now it is about what we need to fix and get better at.”