The release of Super Rugby title winner Kurtley Beale has left the Waratahs with a large void at both fullback and in leadership, but Waratahs coach Rob Penney believes his young squad have the talent and maturity to fill the gap.
Announcing Beale's immediate release on Tuesday, just 10 days before the Waratahs kick off Super Rugby AU against the Reds in Brisbane, Penney told media that team management believed they would be without the 31-year-old's services for the competition as early as May.
"When news came out that he'd signed in France there was always the possibility that it would become too difficult for him to contribute to us and obviously have an eye on what the future might hold," Penney said.
"It's been a really sad loss for us, he's a world class player and you don't have players in your group like him too often, but it become apparent it was the right thing to do and so we've had a good send off today for him."
Capped 148 times with the Sydney-based franchise, Beale was just one of two players remaining from the Waratahs' 2014 Super Rugby championship, leaving Michael Hooper as the single player from the squad remaining.
Used throughout the backline throughout his career, Beale had made the No.15 jersey his own over the last year and will present a huge loss in the Tahs' backline. However, Penney has plenty of options for the role at his disposal.
"Well obviously Jack [Maddocks] would be a first to the forefront of our thinking, Marky Mark's [Nawaqanitawase] had some time there and made bit of progress.
"James Ram also has had some experience there. Ben Donaldson and Will Harrison have both had experience there.
"We've got some options; we've got plenty of cover there."
Requesting release from the Melbourne Rebels at the beginning of 2020, Maddocks moved back to his hometown in Sydney to link up with the Waratahs, providing the side with Test experience. But there's no doubt he'll have large boots to fill if he's to take up the fullback position.
The leadership gap left by Beale's absence will also require filling with the vice-captaincy role left vacant with his early release.
One of the oldest players in the squad, Beale played a large role in leading his much younger team and proved an influential figure for his teammates and Penney admitted finding a replacement would be difficult.
"It's a big hole, we won't deny that, he's been a massive influence on not only us but Australian rugby for a long time and he's such an influential figure," Penney said.
"He's world class and he's proved that on the biggest stages, World Cups and Super games at the highest level and at Test rugby.
"There'll be no doubt he leaves a big void, but it's like anything when a void's created something fills it, we've just got to make sure it's a really positive outcome for us and the growth of some of the potential leaders of the future will get an opportunity and get exposed."
As the countdown clock for Super Rugby AU ticks closer to kick off and despite the loss of Beale, Penney told media he's close to certain on his starting side for their opening match.
"I guess it's sort of 80-90 percent there, there's two or three positions that we're still considering but it's getting to the pointy end now and we've been planning all that with a certain group in mind."