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Wallabies assistant coach Stephen All Blacks vs Wallabies Larkham says Kurtley Beale is “tracking nicely” as he recovers from his hamstring injury, but has revealed the star playmaker is not certain to line up against the All Blacks in the Bledisloe Cup opener.
Beale injured his hamstring in late May in what turned out to be his last game for British Premiership side Wasps.
Now back in Australia, Beale has resumed training with the Wallabies, but during camps in Newcastle and Cessnock, the 60-Test veteran has had been on lighter duties compared to other teammates.
There is every intention that Beale will take the field at ANZ Stadium on August 19 and although he is doing everything in his power to be right, Larkham hinted that he did not have the green light just yet.
“Things are tracking nicely, but whether he’s right to go or not, we’ll have to wait and see next week,” Larkham told Fairfax Media. “He’s trained every day and he’s trained exceptionally well … but we haven’t made selections as a coaching group. You want to see how they [players] pull up over the weekend and how they come in on Monday.”
By the time the Wallabies get their Rugby Championship campaign under way, it will be almost three months since Beale last played and given the standard of opposition, many believe him starting, most likely at inside-centre, is a risk.
“There would be a risk with anyone coming back after that period of time and particularly if they didn’t train well,” Larkham said. “But KB has been one of our best trainers out there. He’s played with a number of these guys before and the combination out there on the field looks very natural for him.
“If he was down on fitness or strength or confidence, there’d be concern, but he’s not showing any of that at the moment.”
Bernard Foley is the only recognised No.10 in the Wallabies squad, however Beale and Reece Hodge could fill a void if the NSW Waratahs playmaker were to come down with an injury at any All Blacks vs Wallabies point during the international season.
“There’s enough coverage there,” said Larkham, arguably Australia’s greatest five-eighth. “KB can play 10 and Hodgey can play 10, so there’s two back-up 10s there. Depending on selections, you’re looking at Bernard as our No.1 five-eighth at this stage. Hodgey has been training in and out of 10. The combination is working well.
“Bernard is a very good organiser and he’s one of the vice-captains of the team now. Having the stability of him out there on the field is good for the confidence of the other boys.”
Of everyone in the Wallabies set-up at the moment, Larkham has beaten the All Blacks twice as many times as anyone else.
From 22 matches, he tasted success on 10 occasions, which is double that of Stephen Moore, who has five wins from 27 starts against New Zealand.
He, of all people, knows what is required to triumph against world rugby’s powerhouse nation and believes the Wallabies will find the right balance between running rugby and territory come next Saturday.
“We don’t want to be predictable to the opposition and we certainly want to be on the same page,” Larkham said. “It won’t be as simple as kicking everything out of our own half or running everything out of our own half. There will be balance.
“The guys have worked very hard over the last month. Every session showed intensity and the boys were keen to go out on the field and improve and not just go through the motions.”
While Jordie Barrett has been ruled out for the rest of the Rugby Championship, his brother Beauden, New Zealand’s in-form five-eighth, is a player Larkham has been doing his homework on.
“He’s reading the game quite well and he’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Larkham said. “He looks fast and seems to be making the right decisions out on the field. They [New Zealand] generally produce a number of great five-eighths and he’s probably the form one at the moment.”
THE Wallabies scrum was given a black eye in their last start against the Italians.
Two late tries at Suncorp Stadium completed a flattering 40-27 scoreline in favour of Australia as captain Stephen Moore admitted post-match that his side were guilty of not showing the Azzurri enough respect.
Loose-head prop Scott Sio — admittedly underdone after an injury-plagued Super Rugby season — was given a torrid time by his opposite Simone Ferrari in a performance that would have concerned national scrum doctor Mario Ledesma.
But Sio, now feeling in better nick after seeing out the season with the Brumbies, says the Aussie front-row is ready to rebound against the All Blacks thanks to some valuable lessons gained from that humbling June Test.
“Unfortunately it didn’t go our way in that game but I think what we learnt is problem solving on the field,” Sio said at the Wallabies camp in Cessnock ahead of the Bledisloe Cup opener in Sydney on August 19.
Communicating a lot better as a front-row to help solve those problems, instead of burying our heads in the sand and trying to figure it out on our own.
“The progression for us as a front-row is to problem solve quicker and make sure that we get it fixed at the next scrum.
“That was the big learning that we got from that and I took that back with Allan (Allalatoa) at the Brumbies and it seemed to work well for us in the last couple of rounds.
“Hopefully we can bring a bit of that here to the Wallaby environment.”
The dark arts of the scrum are a mystery to most observers, even ardent rugby fans.
But Sio went on to explain that the Wallabies needed to be quicker to identify and counteract the opposition’s angles and pressure points if they were to restore a set-piece which provided a strong foundation in the run to the 2015 Rugby World Cup final.
That established front-row of Sio, Moore and Sekope Kepu is now under pressure with the impressive Allalatoa and Tatafa Polota-Nau in the box seat to start against New Zealand.
Sio is likely to hold the No 1 jersey ahead of Tom Robertson and resume his rivalry with Owen Franks, who has also been battling injury concerns and is in some doubt with a niggly Achilles.
Despite Dane Coles’ return from concussion, Sio expected Steve Hansen to stick with the same front-row that started in the drawn Lions series before delivering the Crusaders an eighth Super Rugby title last weekend.
“If they pick the guys on form, you’d say (Joe) Moody, (Codie) Taylor and Franks would be together and what a lot of people don’t understand is that combination,” Sio said.
“They’ve been scrummaging together for a number of years now, at provincial level and at the All Blacks.
“They know each other back to front, throw in (Brodie) Retallick and (Sam) Whitelock in behind them, who have been in the All Blacks now for a number of years, that combination is pretty strong.
“It’s really about us building that here as fast as we can and really learning what each of our strengths are and areas we can improve on individually so that collectively we’re as strong as we can be.”
At 25-years-old and with 32 Tests under his belt, the Wallabies desperately need Sio back to his best if they are to have a shot against the world champions.
After battling hamstring and knee ailments throughout the season, Sio admitted he was “not quite where I want to be” but felt confident of being available for selection provided there were no fresh setbacks.
He had been impressed with Michael Hooper’s “seamless transition” to the Wallabies captaincy as well as the rapid development of his 23-year-old Brumbies chum Allalatoa, who has been fast-tracked into the national leadership group.
“You’ve just got to look at the year All Blacks vs Wallabies he’s had, he’s been the form Australian prop this year in Super and he carried that into the June Tests as well,” Sio said.“There’s a lot of guys that tend to follow guys who play with such intensity and can hold it for such a long time — especially at that tight-head position.“It is such an important role in terms of set-piece and around field as well.“If he can keep playing that way, I guess guys are going to naturally follow him around the field.”