Kurtley Beale ... will make his first starting appearance in the Wallabies No.10 jersey against South Africa. Photo: Getty Images
JOHANNESBURG: Kurtley Beale is psyching himself up for his first starting appearance in the Wallabies No.10 jersey replacing a close friend, Quade Cooper, whose time in the green and gold jersey may be over.
The Wallabies have begun to prepare for life without Cooper after his inflammatory comments about the ''toxic'' state of Australian rugby, with Beale taking over as the playmaker at the team's first training session since arriving in South Africa.
On Thursday, Beale is expected to be named at five-eighth for Saturday night's Test against the Springboks in Pretoria, taking over from Cooper who did not make the overseas trip due to a knee injury.
Cooper has made his biggest impact for some time back at home, causing uproar by criticising the Wallabies' playing style, the Australian Rugby Union, and making it clear he is frustrated with the Test coach Robbie Deans. While he has agreed to continue with the Queensland Reds, Cooper's contractual negotiations with the ARU are at a standstill.
The Wallabies have publicly opted not to comment on Cooper's outburst, but privately several have admitted to being furious with what he said. As one team source told the Herald last night: ''Some of the senior players are over him [Cooper].''
It is known Cooper did not endear himself to several teammates with his abrupt seven-second press conference in Sydney before he headed to Auckland for the Bledisloe Cup Test. They are also not impressed in him attempting to transfer the blame onto others following his poor performance in the last Test against Argentina on the Gold Coast.
Several involved with the Wallabies argue that Cooper's complaints may be part of a campaign to bring about a coaching change.
They claim it is in Cooper's best interest to get rid of Deans, because he believes he stands a better chance of being selected at No.10, and being allowed to play his unorthodox style of football with an understanding successor like Ewen McKenzie. The pair have developed a strong relationship at the Reds.
That's why the next two Tests are important, because if the Wallabies lose to South Africa and Argentina on the road, the pressure on the ARU to replace Deans will become intense, especially after a poor Bledisloe Cup campaign.
However it is no certainty that McKenzie will take over from Deans if the position becomes vacant this season. Even though he is the obvious replacement and deserves the position, McKenzie does not have the support of several influential ARU officials. Some ARU powerbrokers are wary of McKenzie. So Cooper may not get the Wallabies coach he desires, despite a concerted Queensland push for change within the ARU ranks.
Other options for Cooper include heading overseas or joining the NRL, with his prime hope being to play alongside Sonny Bill Williams.
With the relationship between the Reds pivot and Deans clearly fractured, the Wallabies coach will be relying upon another of his Three Amigos to bring some conformity back to a group that wants to show it has not been unsettled by the Cooper issue.
While Berrick Barnes was another candidate for the vacant No.10 position, selectors are expected to stick with him at fullback, where he performed well, especially under the high ball, against the Pumas.
Selecting Beale at No.10 for the first time at Test level makes sense, as he has enormous experience there dating back to his schoolboys and Waratahs days. He will partner a Rebels teammate - halfback Nick Phipps.
The other anticipated Test change is the return from injury of Waratahs second-rower Sitaleki Timani, who is scheduled to replace Kane Douglas.
Meanwhile, Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer is expected to persevere with five-eighth Morne Steyn, despite public pressure for him to be dropped. Injuries may save Steyn, with the latest Springboks uncertainty being centre Francois Steyn who rolled his ankle at training, while pivot Johan Goosen is also in doubt.
Meyer indicated he will opt for experience. ''You just can't throw a whole bunch of 20-year-olds against the Wallabies and All Blacks; they'll be slaughtered,'' Meyer said.