Sport Rugby

Friday 23 February 2018

Beale and O'Connor let off the hook by Australians after early morning fast-food pit-stop

Gavin Mairs

The Australian Rugby Union insists it will not be taking any disciplinary action against two of its leading players, James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale, despite opening an investigation after the pair were pictured out in Melbourne in the early hours – just three days before the crucial second Test against the Lions.

Beale and O'Connor, who will both be named in the Australia team today, had their pictures taken with fans at a fast-food restaurant at 3.50am (local time) yesterday, having earlier attended the game between the Melbourne Rebels and the Lions at AAMI Park and a post-match function with players from both teams.

Beale, who missed two late penalties that could have snatched victory for the Wallabies in the first Test in Brisbane, and O'Connor are both Rebels players. An ARU spokesman admitted the fact the players were out so late was "not ideal" in a Test week.

But he insisted that having interviewed both players and taken 10 witness statements, neither had been drinking or broken any protocols.

Several witnesses at the function corroborated that neither O'Connor – who was driving – nor Beale, who only returned to the Wallabies squad this month after checking himself into an alcohol rehabilitation clinic, had been drinking. The Wallabies are thought to be on a drinking ban for the series.

"There has been a thorough investig-ation of the information," an ARU spokesman said. "Both players are adamant that they didn't drink and we have checked that out. James O'Connor was driving. These players have done nothing wrong. They are expected to behave responsibly, but there are no curfews in place."

The controversy comes just two days after Wallabies wing Digby Ioane was issued with a warrant for his arrest after he failed to appear in a Melbourne court on an assault charge. He was given a new court date on Tuesday and now faces a hearing on August 6. Ioane was subsequently ruled out of the remaining two Tests with a shoulder injury.

Meanwhile, Melbourne Rebels wing Lachlan Mitchell has received a one-match ban for foul play during Tuesday's game against the Lions.

Mitchell was found guilty of lifting Lions wing Simon Zebo during a game the tourists won 35-0. He was cited under Law 10.4 (j), which states that 'lifting a player from the ground and dropping that player onto the ground while that player's feet are still off the ground, such that the player's upper body comes into contact with the ground.

"I found that the incident was clearly at the lowest level for this offence," said judicial officer Nigel Hampton QC.

"The penalty associated for the lower level breach of Law 10.4 (j) is a suspension of four matches.

"Because of the circumstances and Lachlan Mitchell's good on-field record, I have determined that the maximum reduction to the sentence of 50pc should be applied. Further to this, I found that an additional discount to the suspension should be made, as I believe a two-match penalty would be disproportionate to the level and type of offence that has occurred.

"As such, I have delivered a sanction of a one-match suspension, which will be fulfilled following the Rebels' next Super Rugby fixture on July 12."

Irish Independent

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