James O’Connor at outhalf for Australia as Robbie Deans names three new caps
George North’s unexpected return timely boost for Lions going into first Test
James O’Connor of the Rebels has been named at outhalf for the first Test against the Lions with Kurtley Beale on the bench. Photograph: Getty Images.
Australia have picked James O’Connor at outhalf for Saturday’s opening Test against the Lions at Suncorp Stadium with Kurtley Beale included on the bench.
The starting XV picked by coach Robbie Deans features three debutants in right wing Israel Folau, flanker Ben Mowen and inside centre Christian Lealiifano. Folau is competing in his first season in professional rugby union, having already represented Australia at rugby league and played in the AFL.
The Lions received a boost yesterday when George North, rated as a less than 50-50 chance of playing in the first Test as recently as last Sunday, was passed fit.
The Welsh winger has looked the tourists’ most potent weapon on this tour and given the unavailability of Tommy Bowe and Jamie Roberts – either or both of whom could be fit in time for the second Test – his return after Tuesday’s defeat to the Brumbies is all the more encouraging.
As he demonstrated from deep and off standing starts in the Reds game a fortnight ago, North can unlock a defence from anywhere, and is a wonderful finisher.
“The initial grade one hamstring (tear) was helped by George’s attitude and work, and it’s great to have someone of his physicality,” said Rob Howley yesterday. “I think we’ve only seen glimpses of George North. I think he’s a phenomenal athlete, and hopefully he’ll have the opportunity to show it over the next three weeks.
“He’s probably one of the best athletes I’ve been involved with as a coach. He’s got depth to his game, power and speed, and when he made his debut against South Africa aged 19, he had 21-22 touches. That’s what we want our wings to do, have lots of touches and involvement. He works tirelessly at his game and is very diligent.”
Ultimately, there had been no dilemma about holding North back for the second Test. “No, he’s fit to go. Fit for selection. There’s no problem there,” said Howley.
AUSTRALIA (v Lions, Saturday, Brisbane, 11.05am): Berrick Barnes; Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Christian Leali’ifano, Digby Ioane; James O’Connor, Will Genia; Benn Robinson, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, K Douglas, James Horwill, Ben Mowen, Michael Hooper, Wycliff Palu. Replacements: Saia Fainga’a, James Slipper, Sekope Kepu, Rob Simmons, Liam Gill, Nick Phipps, Pat McCabe, Kurtley Beale.