'Death or glory' for Deans and O'Connor
June 27, 2013
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has gone "all-in" with James O'Connor © Getty Images
If nothing else, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is stubborn. Despite the calls for a change at No. 10 after James O'Connor's brilliant impersonation of The Invisible Man during the First Lions Test, and an avalanche of support towards bringing Quade Cooper back into the fold, Deans is having none of it.
O'Connor is Deans' man in an ultimate death-or-glory selection.
Deans is renowned for not giving anything away. I'd imagine Deans would be a sensational poker player. Even his bids would be monosyllabic.
So when Deans several weeks ago made, what was for him, the radical admission at the announcement of the original Wallabies squad that O'Connor was his preferred choice at No .10, you just knew this was the end of Cooper, and that the head coach would stick with O'Connor no matter what.
The "no matter what" occurred in Brisbane, when O'Connor was ineffective, and failed to properly utilise the resources of the most dangerous player on the field, Wallabies winger Israel Folau, who bamboozled the Lions every time he was handed the ball, which wasn't often. It's a fair bet that Cooper, who knows how to ignite a backline as shown with the Queensland Reds, would have handled the situation better, and made his prime objective to get the ball to Folau as soon as possible.
But Cooper remains persona non grata, and O'Connor has been given another chance to show he is actually an international-class playmaker. But this time, the stakes are overwhelming. The standard of O'Connor's performance will have a huge bearing on whether the Wallabies-Lions tussle is still alive when it moves to Sydney next week, or even bring a premature end to Deans' reign as Wallabies head coach if the tourists are series victors after just two Tests.
This time around though, there is bound to be tactical changes in how O'Connor is used. The inclusion of Kurtley Beale at fullback will in some ways ease the pressure on O'Connor, because the two are expected to constantly alternate positions during the Melbourne Test.
Beale could be sighted at first receiver as much or even more than O'Connor, who is expected to sit back in defence at fullback. Beale is a more natural No. 10, and knows how to threaten the advantage line and properly use his supporting runners. It is also known that the Lions fear Beale's unpredictability.
After the carnage of Brisbane, the Wallabies have surprisingly come out better than expected, not having to change their centre combination even though Christian Lealiifano was in la-la land after being knocked out in the first minute and a battered Adam Ashley-Cooper looked as if he had stepped on a land mine after the First Test.
Russell Barwick and Greg Growden preview the second Lions Test%]
The inclusion of Joe Tomane for an injured but also out-of-sorts Digby Ioane is a positive. The only plus out of that oh-so-depressing "dark and stormy" night in Newcastle last year, when Scotland whacked the Wallabies, was the performance of Tomane in his first Test. While some of his team-mates disappeared, Tomane attempted to be a one-man rescue team in the raging storm.
Not surprisingly, the Wallabies pack has been kept intact, even though there was a late push for George Smith to be included in the backrow. Obviously Smith is not yet ready as he is not even part of the eight-man reserve contingent. The only forward lucky to be there is No. 8 Wycliff Palu, who has still to convince many that he is not in the final days of his international career.
Improvement is also drastically required off-the-field. It has been a diabolical week for the Wallabies, with the "slip slidin' away" first Test loss, in which the Australian goalkickers opted for moulded soles rather than studded boots, followed by no-one in management apparently knowing that Ioane was supposed to appear in a Melbourne court, and then the Australian Rugby Union having to investigate why O'Connor and Beale were sighted in a Melbourne fast-food joint at 3.50am on Wednesday night.
Let's just hope for Australian Rugby's sake that O'Connor and Beale catch up with their sleep before Saturday night's kickoff, because this Test match is no idle matter - especially for the Wallabies coach.
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Top 14, Super Rugby and the Aviva Premiership with fireworks and monsters both featuring
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds
It is 100 years this week since the last international match played in Europe before the outbreak of World War One. Rewind remembers the fixture's longest-living survivor
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14