O'Connor sidelined again for Rebels
May 22, 2013
James O'Connor has failed to recover from a chest injury suffered against the Blues on May 11 © Getty Images
Anointed Wallabies playmaker James O'Connor remains sidelined and will have just one match in six weeks under his belt heading into the blockbuster British and Irish Lions series.
O'Connor had been desperate to make his return from a chest injury on Friday night but the Melbourne Rebels have opted against risking him in their Super Rugby clash against New South Wales Waratahs.
It leaves him with just next week's match against Queensland Reds - going head-to-head with good friend Quade Cooper - as his only game practice ahead of the three-Test series against the Lions.
O'Connor has played just six games at five-eighth for the Rebels, winning just one, and has started only one Test at No.10 for the Wallabies - 18 months ago against Wales.
But coach Robbie Deans sees him as best suited to the intense challenge of the Lions.
He will groove his game in a three-week training camp with the initial 25-man Wallabies squad before the first Test on June 22.
Young gun Bryce Hegarty will start at five-eighth against the Waratahs at AAMI Park.
"James was desperate to play, which was admirable," said Rebels high-performance manager Mark Andrews. "However, it would not be in the team's or player's best interest to risk further damage when the injury is a significant one, and has not fully healed."
Halfback Nick Phipps returns to the starting side following an impressive second-half display in the 30-21 upset of the Stormers, while Luke Jones replaces Cadeyrn Neville in the second row.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has made four changes, dropping Rob Horne to the bench and selecting Berrick Barnes at inside centre for his first run-on start in 10 weeks.
Barnes has played just 77 minutes this season but made two influential cameos off the bench in the Waratahs' comeback victories over the Stormers and Brumbies to play his way into the 25-man Wallabies squad.
Barnes had also been viewed as a potential fullback, where he's being sized up for the Wallabies, but Cheika has stuck firm with Israel Folau at No.15 instead of moving him to the wing.
Rebels: Jason Woodward, Tom English, Mitch Inman, Rory Sidey, Lachlan Mitchell, Bryce Hegarty, Nick Phipps; Scott Higginbotham (captain), Scott Fuglistaller, Jarrod Saffy, Luke Jones, Hugh Pyle, Laurie Weeks, Ged Robinson, Nic Henderson. Replacements: Shota Horie, Paul Alo-Emile, Cadeyrn Neville, Gareth Delve, Jordy Reid, Nic Stirzaker, Kimami Sitauti.