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More twists for Lions' Oz Tests

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Australia's Kurtley Beale. Photo: REUTERS/David Gray

Australia's Kurtley Beale. Photo: REUTERS/David Gray

Alex Cuthbert (right) celebrates with his team-mate Brian O'Driscoll. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire.

Alex Cuthbert (right) celebrates with his team-mate Brian O'Driscoll. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire.

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Australia's Kurtley Beale. Photo: REUTERS/David Gray

Not for the first time, Brian O'Driscoll was right. This was a "strange" one.

THE British and Irish Lions had the better try-scoring chances. But, crucially, Australia had the last two chances – two gilt-edged penalties that Kurtley Beale could not convert.

The Lions will have left Brisbane with feelings of remorse that they could not turn their set-piece, set-plays and territorial dominance into more than just an unconvincing 23-21 victory.

The Wallabies will have left with the knowledge that they could have and should have won the first Test. And that they have more room for improvement.

This is far from finished.

There are more twists to this story than an old Alfred Hitchcock black and white. The latest came with the exoneration of Australia captain James Horwill from his citing for an alleged stamp on Alun-Wyn Jones.

The incident in the third minute was as clear a case of open and shut as one could imagine as Horwill clearly adjusts his feet and drives his right foot into the head of Jones.

The Lions must be infuriated at the reasoning behind Judicial Officer Nigel Hampton's ruling: "After hearing all the evidence I could not find that, when James Horwill's right foot came into glancing contact with Alun-Wyn Jones' face, that he was acting recklessly.

"I found that I could not reject as being implausible or improbable Horwill's explanation that, as he was driving forward with his right leg raised, he was spun off balance through the impact of Lions players entering the ruck from the opposite side.

"In an endeavour to regain his balance, Horwill brought his right leg to the ground unknowing that Alun-Wyn Jones' head was in that area, due to having his sight impeded by the presence of Michael Hooper and Tom Croft who were beneath him and over the top of Alun-Wyn Jones.

"Due to these reasons, I cannot uphold the citing," concluded Hampton, a New Zealander, the same man who cleared Cian Healy of an alleged bite on Western Force scrum-half Brett Sheehan at the start of the tour.

Outside that, Australia coach Robbie Deans was stumped at the catastrophic list of injuries to his backs: "I have never seen anything like it in all my years in rugby," he said.

"To come within a penalty kick of winning at the end, despite all the setbacks we suffered, showed just how courageous the players were and their performance stacks up against any."

The Australians will have to reconfigure their three-quarter line and coach Robbie Deans will have to decide on the identity of his number ten.

The historically troubled, but mercurial Beale looks like the man most likely to unhinge the Lions, with James O'Connor better resourced for work in the wider channels.

Deans has called up the legendary George Smith, Brumbies full-back Jesse Mogg and Queensland Reds centre Ben Tapuai to his threadbare squad.

He is struggling to define the extent of injuries to Christian Leali'ifano (head), Pat McCabe (neck), Berrick Barnes (head), Adam Ashley-Cooper (shoulder) and Digby Ioane (shoulder).

It is not just the Wallabies that may have to reconsider their Test roster. The totemic Paul O'Connell (arm) and loose-head Alex Corbisiero (calf) emerged as legitimate Lions injury concerns, both "continue to be treated and assessed".

There is ample cover for O'Connell in the shape of Geoff Parling, pencilled in for the captaincy against Melbourne Rebels tomorrow, Richie Gray and Ian Evans.

The strain on Corbisiero has triggered the call to Ireland's second-choice loose-head Tom Court, currently at home in Brisbane, in a move similar to that of Shane Williams for its practicality rather than merit.

There is positivity in the return to fitness of Manu Tuilagi, Tommy Bowe and, possibly, Jamie Roberts to further enhance the power-packed players at the Lions' disposal.

The fact that Tuilagi has been picked against Melbourne Rebels for tomorrow and Bowe has been left on the outside hints that the Irishman could be involved in the second test.

There is no doubt that there was a clear disconnect between Brian O'Driscoll and Jonathan Davies in the first Test that does not exist between O'Driscoll and Jamie Roberts.

There could be changes for the Lions. There will definitely be changes for Australia.


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