Painful … Kurtley Beale is no longer the potent weapon he used to be. Photo: Reuters
WALLABIES coach Robbie Deans believes axed fullback Kurtley Beale's conditioning must improve before he can again be considered for a starting Test spot.
Deans also emphasised the importance of Brumbies centre Pat McCabe to the Wallabies by bringing him straight back into the starting XV as soon as he was fit, in a revamped attack to confront Argentina on the Gold Coast on Saturday night.
McCabe's return after missing the first three Tests of the Rugby Championship because of a stress fracture in his foot resulted in Beale being squeezed out of the starting XV and onto the bench.
"You don't suddenly go from hero to zero. He's somewhere in between, and continues to offer us an awful lot" ... Wallabies coach Robbie Deans on Kurtley Beale. Photo: Jason Oxenham
As Berrick Barnes's accurate goalkicking was crucial, he has been moved from inside centre, to accommodate McCabe, to fullback - a position he played regularly last season with Sydney University while recovering from several serious bouts of concussion. And so Beale instead finds himself as one of three backs reserves.
Although Beale's effort against the Springboks in Perth last weekend was a considerable improvement on his dreadful performance against the All Blacks in Sydney, he is still well short of what made him one of Australia's most potent attacking weapons in 2010-11.
Opposition teams have started to work him out, and his pace off the mark has diminished. Precise defensive strategies have had the desired effect of limiting Beale's impact.
''The defensive lines in Test rugby have stiffened up. Every side is finding it harder to score, and that side of the game is getting more difficult. And that's the side of the game which Kurtley is most remembered for,'' Deans said yesterday.
''It is also fair to say whether it be as a result of injuries or whatever, he is not as sharp as he has been. He's working hard on that, and will get back there.
''One of Kurtley's greatest points of difference was his footwork and his explosiveness. He had the ability to create a foot race and win. He has great instinct, and reads body language superbly. But to maximise that you have to be really at the top of your game and on top of your fitness. And he's not at the moment. That's evident. He's not in his 2010 shape.
''Still you don't suddenly go from hero to zero. He's somewhere in between, and continues to offer us an awful lot.''
Deans said Beale was probably most dangerous playing from the bench at the moment.
''He will provide a lot coming off the bench late when he is fresh and up against tiring bodies.''
Beale's teammate and long-standing friend, Quade Cooper, was adamant his form slump would only be for a short time, and he would soon be demanding a starting spot again.
''I don't think it is a case of him not playing well,'' Cooper said yesterday. ''The way the recent games have been panning out, it hasn't been the best for any of the back three.
''Kurtley is a player with a lot of expectation on him, and a lot of people have their eyes on him. So if he has a normal game it is noted that he is not as spectacular as he usually is.''
It was also clear McCabe was one of the first picked for this Test, even though his only football in recent months was 30 minutes in last weekend's Canberra club grand final. Deans has long held McCabe in the highest regard, prompting his inclusion in this year's Wallabies leadership group.
''He's been an integral part of this team for the past two seasons, and it was a pretty straightforward decision to bring him back in.
''When you have lost so much experience, it is good to have someone like Pat coming back, especially with his strength of character, physical stature and he is also someone who is prepared to provide direction to the game.''