Watching Kurtley Beale, ball in hand, whizzing past defences at full speed is one of the most beautiful sights in the game so it is no surprise to sense the emotion when the superstar Wallaby reveals he hasn’t touched a rugby ball in three months.
It was on May 14, just 24 hours after his big-money move to Wasps was confirmed, that Beale took to the field with the Waratahs to face the Bulls but 30 seconds in, as he landed from a high ball, he stayed down with torn patella tendon in his left knee.
There were fears he would be out for a year but, after successful surgery, he is now expected to be back playing by November or December.
His contract with the Australian Rugby Union was due to end after the Rugby Championship but, given his injury, he was released early and arrived in Coventry last week.
Becoming used to his new surroundings and getting his knee ready for battle again are the only things he is worried about for now but, as he looks at his new teammates throwing the ball around at their new Broadstreet RFC training base, it is obvious he is itching to get back on the park sooner rather than later.
Talking exclusively to The Rugby Paper, he said: “I haven’t had a ball in my hands since the injury happened. But, as frustrating as it can be that I’m not able to be out there with the lads training right now, I can’t focus on that too much.
“The main focus is to build the muscles around my left knee back up. It’s important to get that right because it could lead to other injuries down the line if I don’t do it right.
“At the moment there’s no set date for my return. I’ll make sure it’s all good to go before I get back out there and do what I love which is to get the ball in my hands and play rugby.
“The first three months after the injury have been the toughest times I’ve had in my career. Maybe more mentally than physically because I had to deal with the fact that an injury like that happens.
“I had to fight a lot of demons but I was fortunate to have some very good support around me. It allowed me to continue with my rehab and come over early.”
Those demons Beale is talking about have been highly documented. As talented as he is – he made his Super Rugby debut a few weeks after turning 18 in 2007 and his first Test was two years later against Wales – the mercurial fly-half has also grabbed the headlines for the wrong reasons and a quick search on the internet brings up a full rap sheet of off-the-field antics.
Fights in nightclubs, with teammates, a late trip to a burger chain a few days before the second Lions Test in 2013, you name it.
Most of these incidents were alcohol related and they were ruining the career of one of the most exciting rugby players on the planet.
But that summer of 2013 is when Beale admitted to his problem and he checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation clinic and there hasn’t been another incident since – bar a mid-flight feud with a member of the Wallabies management in October 2014.
He left the Rebels to return to the Waratahs and he has gone from strength to strength.
Up until his injury, he started in all but two games for the Sydney franchise, playing a key role in them winning the Super Rugby title in 2014, and it was the same for the Wallabies, making 21 appearances from 26 possible Tests between 2014 and 2015.
The year of 2013 is also when Beale met his girlfriend Maddi and the 27-year-old is quick to praise the influence she has had on him.
“But, to be honest, meeting Maddi three years ago has been a turning point in my life. She has helped me settle down and I’m very grateful to have her in my life.
“She’ll be coming over in the next couple of weeks and it’ll be great to have her alongside me here in Coventry.
“I was very lucky to play under Michael Cheika in my first year back at the Waratahs and being surrounded by quality players.
“It allowed me to enhance my game and push forward to become a more accomplished player. Hopefully, I can do the same here at Wasps and I can get back to where I was before the injury.”
Beale arrived in Coventry with the highest price-tag the Premiership has ever seen – believed to be in excess of £500,000 per season – so he will be under huge pressure to deliver a trophy to a side that reached the semi-finals of both Premiership and Champions Cup last season.
“I’ll deal with the pressure of playing when it comes to it but I feel like I can handle pressure,” he said. “I like to back my abilities when I’m on the pitch. I felt like I was in really good form before the injury happened and I really enjoy the pressure that comes with being a marquee player.
“But I’ve got to keep working hard and not get too far ahead of myself. I’ll have to make sure I do my job on the field, contribute to the team and not overplay myself.”
Wasps already had a stellar backline last season and the arrivals of Beale, former Rebels teammate Danny Cipriani, Kyle Eastmond and Willie le Roux will only give boss Young more headaches when it comes to selection.
Most can play in different position and Beale himself can easily slot in at fly-half, inside centre or full-back.
He says he will be happy to play anywhere Young wants him to but the midfield is where he has revelled in the past three years and he’d be keen to line up alongside Cipriani in the playmaker roles.
He said: “I’m looking forward to training with Danny again and there’s going to be a lot of competition with Jimmy Gopperth for that No.10 jersey. I’ve said to Dai I’m happy to play wherever he sees fit but I really enjoyed my time at inside centre for the Waratahs playing outside Bernard Foley.
“I built a strong combination with him and it’s something I’m looking to do here, too, with Jimmy and Danny.”
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