SYDNEY, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Kurtley Beale’s return to top form appears to be little more than coincidental as Australia gear up to face a wounded South Africa side in the Rugby Championship in Bloemfontein next week.
Beale smashed over a long-range penalty in the final minute of the Wallabies clash against the Springboks at the same venue in 2010 to give the visitors a 41-39 victory, the last time the two sides met in the Free State capital.
The win was their first over the Springboks on the high veldt since 1963 and just their third in either Johannesburg, Pretoria or Bloemfontein since 1933.
The only other wins in 21 tests at altitude in South Africa were a 15-4 triumph in Bloemfontein in 1933 and an 11-9 victory in Johannesburg 30 years later, but Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said conditions had nothing to do with the poor results.
“I just think it might be in our head,” Cheika told reporters at Sydney Airport on Saturday of the team’s abysmal record on the high veldt.
“It’s been a while since we’ve won there and to be honest, we haven’t accumulated a whole lot of wins over there full stop,” he added of the 10 victories in 44 tests in the Republic.
“And if we want to take stepping stones to be a better team, we’ve got to be able to be mentally strong enough.”
Beale has proved his mental toughness after a lengthy break due to injury and after a confused defensive performance against the All Blacks in their opening Rugby Championship clash, he has been in career-best form for the Wallabies ever since.
Cheika praised Beale after the 23-23 draw with the Springboks in Perth two weeks ago and hoped his influence might rub off on his team mates.
The Wallabies, who had lost their opening two Rugby Championship fixtures against the All Blacks, responded last week as they produced a strong second-half performance to run out 45-20 victors over the Pumas in Canberra.
Cheika, however, said his side needed to continue with the upward progression against the Springboks.
“You’ve just got to go there and do you best,” he said. “For us, it’s just about this group of players getting a bit smarter, playing a bit more consistently then we’ll see where we land.”
While they battle their own demons with consistency, Cheika was also well aware the Springboks had been humiliated 57-0 by the All Blacks last week in Auckland and would be looking to restore some pride next Saturday.
The Wallabies, who will base themselves in Johannesburg before travelling to Bloemfontein later in the week for the clash, are third in the Rugby Championship on eight points, three behind the Springboks.
World champions New Zealand have 19 points and can win their second successive title with victory over the Pumas in Buenos Aires later on the same day. (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O’Brien)