Michael Cheika acknowledges his decision to end Kurtley Beale’s Wallabies exile will divide opinion but says it came down to not wanting to play politics and staying true to himself as a coach.
Controversial utility Beale will join the Wallabies in Europe from Sunday for the final two games of the spring tour against Ireland and England, just a month after the text messaging scandal that threw Australian rugby into turmoil.
Rising Reds backrower Jake Schatz will also link up with the team in Dublin as cover for veteran Scott Higginbotham, who is being sent home due to a hamstring injury.
Beale was last month fined $45,000 by an independent tribunal for sending a lewd picture message to former Australian Rugby Union staff member Di Patston but he escaped suspension after being found not guilty of sending a second, more offensive text.
Cheika, who coaches Beale in Super Rugby at the NSW Waratahs, opted not to select the player in his initial spring tour squad due to fitness, rather than disciplinary, reasons.
But after receiving word from Waratahs officials Beale was back up to speed after three weeks in training, Cheika approached ARU chief executive Bill Pulver to have the call-up approved before informing Beale of his selection by telephone on Thursday.
Cheika stressed he saw it as his job simply to pick the best available players.
“If I don’t select the players who I think should be in the team then I’m just playing politics and that’s not what I’m interested in,” Cheika said on Friday ahead of Saturday’s clash with France in Paris, only his second Test as coach.
“Right now is he in the top 33 (players in Australia?). Yeah he is. So he should be here.”
Beale’s call-up has already sparked furore from many on social media and Cheika admits he toyed with the idea of holding off on a recall until next year.
“But will it divide (people) any less now than it will in June?,” Cheika said.
“If I didn’t do it, I’d only just be playing to the crowd as opposed to what my real job is here.
“I’ve got to stay true to what I believe as a coach at this level.
“I don’t have any influence in any other part of the ARU except for coaching the team and picking it and that’s what I’ve got to stay focused on.
“If people didn’t want him to play then that decision would have been made (by the tribunal or ARU).
“If I’m not looking at it that way, I’m letting down the other players because you’ve got to get the best players playing.
Australia have won their opening two matches of the tour but Cheika isn’t worried about Beale’s arrival proving a distraction.
“What do we do? Put it off a little bit and hope everyone forgets about it and he can come back later on? I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.”
Cheika says Beale wants to win back respect on the pitch and the utility will be considered for next Saturday’s clash with Ireland in Dublin if he proves himself in training.
“He’s obviously very disappointed, as he should be, with what transpired so now’s an opportunity to redeem himself,” Cheika said.
Beale has not played for Australia since the loss to South Africa in Cape Town on September 27.
He was fined a further $3000 over an in-flight argument with Patston with the scandal ultimately leading to her resignation and that of former coach Ewen McKenzie.
Australian skipper Michael Hooper said Beale would be welcomed back with open arms.
“We need our best team over here to win our remaining games and KB is part of that,” Hooper said.
Meanwhile Cheika praised 24-year-old Schatz, who is cutting short a holiday in Thailand to join the tour and bolster depth in the backrow.