Australia play down late night out for Beale and O’Connor

Official says players were not drinking after attending function

Australia’s Kurtley Beale slips  while kicking the last-minute penalty in the first Test defeat to the British and Irish Lions in Brisbane. Photograph:  Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Australia’s Kurtley Beale slips while kicking the last-minute penalty in the first Test defeat to the British and Irish Lions in Brisbane. Photograph: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Wed, Jun 26, 2013, 18:20

Australia backs Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor have been cleared of wrongdoing after being photographed in a fast food restaurant in Melbourne in the early hours of the morning, four days before the second Test against the British and Irish Lions.

Beale and O‘Connor, who play for Super Rugby side the Melbourne Rebels, watched from the sidelines as the Lions beat their team 35-0 on Tuesday in the final midweek match of their tour.

Beale has only just returned to rugby after taking four months off following a string of alcohol-related incidents, including punching team mates on a bus in South Africa.

“There has been a full and thorough investigation of the information,“ the Australian Rugby Union said in a statement.

“The two players were out last night, but they were not drinking – 10 witnesses we have spoken to corroborated that.“

The statement added that after the match Beale and O’Connor went to a function at a club with Rebels team-mates and some Lions players before stopping to pick up food on the way home.

“Both players are adamant that they didn’t drink and we have checked that out thoroughly. James O‘Connor was driving. They have not broken any team protocols,” the ARU said.

“These players have done nothing wrong. Within the team protocols, they are expected to behave responsibly and show common sense but there are no curfews in place.”

The Wallabies lost the first Test 23-21 and Beale missed a last-minute penalty that would have sealed victory for the hosts after slipping on contact.

Meanwhile, Beale is in line to get the nod ahead of O’Connor at outhalf for Saturday’s second Test.

Australian coach Robbie Deans admitted that O’Connor endured a “difficult” match at the Suncorp Stadium, although he was hardly helped by the succession of injuries that decimated the Wallabies’ threequarters.

Whatever Deans decides at 10, Beale will start the match following his 41-minute substitute appearance in Brisbane with fullback the likely option after Berrick Barnes was ruled out of the showdown at the Etihad Stadium through concussion.

Centres Adam Ashley-Cooper and Christian Leali’ifano have been recovering from a shoulder injury and concussion respectively but are expected to be passed fit, enabling Australia to field their first choice midfield.

With Digby Ioane out for the remainder of the series because of a shoulder problem, Joe Tomane is favourite to join rugby league sensation Israel Folau on the wings.

Captain James Horwill escaped punishment for stamping on Alun-Wyn Jones last weekend, so the only area of debate in the pack is whether 110-Test veteran George Smith should be involved.

The 32-year-old breakdown specialist has spent the last five weeks sidelined by a knee injury and while he is unlikely to break up the backrow of Ben Mowen, Michael Hooper and Wycliff Palu, he could displace Liam Gill from the bench.

Mowen was one of several Wallabies who covered himself in glory, despite the outcome of an epic match.

The 28-year-old blindside flanker, who will be winning his second cap, insists Australia are determined to rescue the series.

“We were desperate last weekend but we’re well aware that if we don’t get the result on Saturday then it’s gone,” he said.

“That’s a really disappointing thought and has given the guys huge motivation. It’s all on the line.”

A potential swing in momentum occurred within 12 eventful hours as the weekend came to a close after Horwill was controversially cleared of stamping and Lions lock Paul O’Connell was ruled out of the remainder of the series with a fractured arm.

“Paul was a huge general for the Lions. He’s got massive respect from both teams,” Mowen said.

“When you lose a player of that calibre it takes a massive effort to cover for him. He ran their lineout extremely well, making it difficult to get any defensive pressure on them.

“He’s staying with the squad so I’m sure they’ll draw on his experience right up until game day.

“It’s a massive relief that we have James available. He’s our captain and a huge leader in our pack, getting through an enormous amount of work.

“He gives the team direction so you always want to make sure a player of that calibre is on the pitch.”