Monday 11 December 2017

North fit for first Test as Wallabies pick O'Connor at out-half

Conor George

Conor George

Australia have picked James O'Connor at fly-half for Saturday's opening Test against the Lions at Suncorp Stadium, with Kurtley Beale included on the bench.

The starting XV picked by coach Robbie Deans features three debutants – full-back Israel Folau, flanker Ben Mowen and inside-centre Christian Lealiifano.

Folau, who has already represented Australia in rugby league and played in the AFL, has been in stunning form at full-back for the NSW Waratahs, but has been chosen on the right wing by the Wallabies, with Digby Ioane, who has recovered from knee surgery, lining up on the opposite flank.

With Beale deemed not ready to start against the Lions following his return from alcohol-related problems, Deans has opted for O'Connor at fly-half with Berrick Barnes taking the No 15 jersey.

It will be only the second time O'Connor has played a Test at 10, with the other appearance taking place alongside Will Genia against Wales in 2011.

Scrum-half Genia and the selection of Adam Ashley-Cooper were the two certainties in the Wallaby backline, with the presence of Lealiifano one of the main talking points in the build-up to the announcement.

The 25-year-old playmaker also features at fly-half for the ACT Brumbies and has edged the more defensive Pat McCabe to form a centre partnership with Ashley-Cooper.

Lealiifano's inclusion indicates the Wallabies are seeking to play a more expansive game against the Lions.

Warren Gatland's men have been boosted by the availability of George North who looks to have overcome a hamstring injury.

"I've never seen George in better shape," said Rob Howley. "We took our time and gave him the chance to recover properly. He's fit and ready to play... if selected."

The Lions team to start against the Wallabies looks set to include three Irishmen, with Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and Jamie Heaslip expected to start when the team is named in the early hours of this morning (Irish time).

AUSTRALIA – B Barnes; I Folau, A Ashley-Cooper, C Lealiifano, D Ioane; J O'Connor, W Genia; B Robinson, S Moore, B Alexander, K Douglas, J Horwill (capt), B Mowen, M Hooper, W Palu. Reps: S Fainga'a, J Slipper, S Kepu, R Simmons, L Gill, N Phipps, P McCabe, K Beale.

Irish Independent

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