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Kurtley Beale changes his attitude and gets back behind the wheel

I found the love for rugby again: Kurtley Beale.

I found the love for rugby again: Kurtley Beale. Photo: Wolter Peeters

If doubt drove Kurtley Beale to a very public dummy spit two months ago, some honest self-assessment brought him back. 

Back from the brink, back into the fold, back to his best.

Beale hasn't said another word about his contract since that day, seven weeks ago, when he wondered aloud if he was OK with being a bench player in the Ewen McKenzie era. 

He has offered the usual platitudes since then – "I'll let my manager handle that" – but the paperwork presumably still sits, unsigned, in said manager's office. 

He is mildly uncomfortable when the comments are raised in conversation. "I want it to be right for me" doesn't ring true when you're about to pull on the Wallabies' No.10 jersey and stare down the haka.

How much more right can it get?

But Beale stops short of apologising for voicing his frustrations about his place in McKenzie's world view. It was, as it turns out, a simple case of uncertainty. 

"That was all about doubt," he says. "There was a bit of doubt because of how it was all panning out."

A fair bit has changed in the almost eight weeks since the former Melbourne Rebel declared he must look at his options. 

Beale has gone from 20-minute man to starting Test five-eighth in that time, with a Super Rugby title to his name and the air about him of a bloke who's ripped the monkey from his back. 

He did it the old-fashioned way. He got stuck in.

"I changed my attitude. I had to," he says. "By keeping my head down and trying to stay focused, that allowed me to try and work out another way of trying to get what I wanted out of the game – the best out of my game.

"I know if I can deliver my best I can bring out the best in them as well. I'm really confident in that."

Not for the first time in recent years, Beale got real. It was the week of the qualifying finals. If the Waratahs were going to fire against the Brumbies in the semi-final, he felt there were things he could be doing better.

"I needed to be a lot tighter with Bernard [Foley] if I wanted to play good footy," he says.

"I knew he would bring the best out of me. We're fighting for the same position [in the Wallabies] but I thought about how we could make it work.

"If I can help out by playing in another position and also do the [playmaking] job at the same time, I'm doing what I like doing, which is ball in hand, and trying to create opportunities for the guys outside me and around me, but I'm also just being that team guy as well, which I like to be renowned for."

It worked a treat. Beale produced the most sublime performance of his career to put the Waratahs in a position where Foley, without hesitation, could kick the winning penalty goal. 

"There weren't any harsh feelings towards Bernard, I knew he was going to bring the best out of me," Beale says.

"Working together, if we're both good at our game, collectively we'll be better as a group. Winning the Super Rugby title was the icing on the cake. It made me realise that sometimes that's the best way."

There's no telling what the man on the other side of the fence might be feeling about the fruits of that playmaking partnership. Devastated or filthy might sum it up, at least early in the week. 

But if Foley has been cast as bridesmaid to Beale's bride this week, no one close to the Wallabies doubts the 24-year-old will play a decisive role in Australia's fortunes in 2015, when another World Cup rolls around. 

While rugby fans argued vociferously over the respective merits of Quade Cooper and Matt Toomua, Foley quietly trumped them both, burning from debut to maiden start in eight months and five Tests.  

Beale's return to the fold, in rare form, just as Cooper was injured, has given McKenzie options. Selections this week indicate the Wallabies coach intends using them. 

Beale has worn the gold No.10 jersey just seven times in his 42-Test career. Of those matches, the Wallabies won four, lost two and drew one – to the memorable disgust of All Blacks coach Steve Hansen – in Brisbane two years ago.

It is worth noting that Beale was in the thick of his troubled years during that period, veering on and off the rails between Test matches, with each punch or drunken incident detailed meticulously in the media. 

He was also carrying a shoulder injury, which would eventually require surgery. It was the first thing McKenzie asked him to do after the British and Irish Lions series loss precipitated the departure of Robbie Deans. 

He has not looked back, and believes he is a far better playmaker and five-eighth than he was when his last-minute try sealed a thrilling win against Wales in Cardiff in November 2012. 

"There's still a lot more work to do around my basic skills, my passing and kicking, and over the years the game has increased in intensity skill-wise, especially in Test match rugby," Beale says.

"When you finish a game against the All Blacks, you really know where you are. You can learn a lot from playing them. They're the benchmark, they're a very special team."

This was Beale's fresh start. In rugby and in life. With the doubt extinguished, he feels he has proved something to himself and the wider rugby community.

"When I was down in Melbourne that was very tough for me, but I was very fortunate to have some strong people beside me and they really helped me stay grounded and stay focused," he says. 

"A lot of people believed in me and seeing them disappointed during that period, that's what fired me to remain focused and start again. To try to repay the faith, to repay them, pretty much, for everything they've done. 

"I thought I'd achieved a lot up until that time, but if I did go out then I don't think I'd ever forgive myself. 

"I found the love for rugby again."

Twitter: @geerob

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