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Aussie O'Connor ready to fly at 10 as Deans rolls dice


Australia's James O'Connor. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Australia's James O'Connor. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Australia's James O'Connor. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

AUSTRALIA fly-half James O'Connor is ready to shoulder the responsibility after being asked to spearhead the Wallabies' attack against the British and Irish Lions.

O'Connor has played just one previous Test at 10 – against Wales in 2011 – and his selection in the position for Saturday's series opener at Suncorp Stadium by coach Robbie Deans is a significant gamble. But the versatile 22-year-old, who will be winning his 38th cap, insists he is ready to prove Deans' judgement is sound.

"Growing up I played my rugby at 10. The 10 is not normally the biggest guy on the field and that's probably the point where everyone attacks," he said.

"I've been used to that all my life. I can't express how pumped I am – I just want to get out there.

"I've been watching the Lions tour over the last few weeks and it's made everyone hungry.

"It's a huge occasion and I'm looking forward to it – the shoulders are ready. The Lions have brought their A game but there's some good support around me. You can build combinations on the training field and we've been doing that. I feel very confident over how it's been going."

Some of the playmaking burden will be lifted by the presence of debutant and in-form Brumbie Christian Lealiifano at inside centre.

With Kurtley Beale deemed unready to start against the Lions following his return from alcohol-related problems – he is named on the bench – Berrick Barnes has been selected at full-back.

"Kurtley was close to the starting XV, but just being in this position is a good achievement for him," Deans said. "If there's an early injury, there would be no qualms over him coming on."

Completing the trio of new caps are wing Israel Folau, who this time last year was playing Australian rules football following a switch from rugby league, and blindside flanker Ben Mowen.

The Lions, battle hardened by six provincial matches, are hoping to ambush the Wallabies in the first Test, capitalising on the fact their opponents enter the series without having played a warm-up match.

Deans is predicting a monumental opener in Brisbane, the scene of the Lions' 29-13 victory in 2001 – a match played before a crowd dominated by visiting supporters.

"We've made the most of the time we've had and I can assure you we'll hit the ground running," Deans said.

"We've tapped into the past and prepared as best we can. We can't do any more without playing, to be frank.

"The Lions have been building their game and have played very well. It will be a tough Test, but we'll bring a fair amount to that.

"It's going to be an epic occasion. It will be a battle of wills and momentum is a big part of Test rugby.

"The side that can generate momentum will have the greater opportunity."

Australia (to face the British and Irish Lions at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, on Saturday June 22):

B Barnes (NSW Waratahs); I Folau (NSW Waratahs), A Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs), C Lealiifano (Brumbies), D Ioane (Queensland Reds); J O'Connor (Melbourne Rebels), W Genia (Queensland Reds); B Robinson (NSW Waratahs), S Moore (Brumbies), B Alexander (Brumbies), K Douglas (NSW Waratahs), J Horwill (Queensland Reds, capt), B Mowen (Brumbies), M Hooper (NSW Waratahs), W Palu (NSW Waratahs).

Replacements: S Fainga'a (Queensland Reds), J Slipper (Queensland Reds), S Kepu (NSW Waratahs), R Simmons (Queensland Reds), L Gill (Queensland Reds), N Phipps (Melbourne Rebels), P McCabe (Brumbies), K Beale (Melbourne Rebels).