Robbie Deans keeps Australia changes to minimum for second Test
Wallabies coach decides to retain James O’Connor as playmaker
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has kept his faith in outhalf James O’Connor for tomorrow’s second Test against the Lions in Melbourne. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images.
Wounded they may be, but not nearly as badly as initially feared. The odds on Robbie Deans restricting the overhaul to just two injury-enforced changes in his starting XV and hence two more on the bench, would have been considerable last Saturday, on top of which the under-fire Wallabies head coach is determined to stand or fall on his vexed decision to retain James O’Connor as his primary play-maker.
James Horwill’s disciplinary reprieve (which has been appealed by the IRB) and the unlikely recoveries of Adam Ashley-Cooper (shoulder) and goal-kicking centre Christian Leali’ifano, knocked out cold in the first minute on his debut, mean the only alterations are Kurtley Beale replacing the concussed Berrick Barnes at fullback, and the once-capped Joe Tomane in for Digby Ioane.
Tomane, born in New Zealand but raised in Australia, returned to rugby union last year after four seasons in the 13-man code.
Of O’Connor’s performance last week, Deans said his outhalf “is going to be a lot better for that. While the performance wasn’t perfect, and he was part of that, so were others.”
The availability of the Wallabies’ first-choice midfield combination is particularly remarkable.
“It’s great. It was pretty challenging circumstances last week. I haven’t actually asked Christian whether he remembers his time on the ground!
“It’s great to get your first cap but it wasn’t a great way to end your first outing. He’ll get to experience a lot more this week and he’ll get the benefit of that.
“Clearly this week we’ve had the benefit of some more prep and hopefully we’ll have a little more fluency in our game. Christian will be a big part of that.
“Coopy” (Ashley-Cooper) was very sore post-match. He was cleared in terms of anything structural so it was just a matter of getting beyond that discomfort and pain and he’s done that.”
According to an ARU release, Leali’ifano was declared fit to play following his 45-second debut “after undergoing the extensive post-concussion tests required by the IRB protocols, and will resume the goal-kicking role”.
With replacement centre Pat McCabe also ruled out, Rob Horne and uncapped fullback Jesse Mogg have been added to the bench.