x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Australia do not need a perfect 10 against Lions in the third Test

The Wallabies have managed without an outstanding fly-half in the series and must do it again.

Australia's Kurtley Beale practices his kicking skills having fallen short once in the first Test. William West / AFP
Australia's Kurtley Beale practices his kicking skills having fallen short once in the first Test. William West / AFP

Australia were staring series defeat in the eyes last week when they trailed by six points going into the last 10 minutes in Melbourne.

But Adam Ashley-Cooper's try and an ice-cool conversion from Christian Leali'ifano ensured they are now in with a great chance of repeating the 2001 series success over the British & Irish Lions where they recovered from losing the first Test to triumph also.

Here is what Australia must do today to prevail:

 

Avoid O'Connor

There once was a time when the fly-half was regarded as the pillar of a rugby team. All the early Rugby World Cups, for example, are a good barometer.

Each of the successful sides in that competition after its 1987 inception had a figurehead at No 10: Grant Fox, Michael Lynagh, Joel Stransky, Stephen Larkham and Jonny Wilkinson.

Not so much lately. Now it really does not seem to matter. Fly-half has become the most overrated and unimportant position on the park in the modern game.

New Zealand, for example, were down to their fifth best stand-off (including the exiled Nick Evans) by the time Stephen Donald kicked the winning points in the last World Cup final in 2011.

Clearly it matters not a jot who wears the No 10 shirt, so long as there are decent players either side of him.

The Wallabies are still in with a shout of winning this series in spite of, rather than because of, Robbie Deans's decision to play James O'Connor there.

If Will Genia does deign to pass the ball out at any point today, the Wallabies will be hoping O'Connor shovels it on as quickly as possible to Christian Leali'ifano and lets him sort everything out.

 

Forget the Deans dilemma

What a difference a win makes. Had Leali'ifano not kicked that decisive conversion last week, Deans, the Wallabies coach, would have been clearing his desk in the knowledge he would never be welcome back in Australia.

The New Zealander was supposed to be a dead man walking before this series. Defeat to the touring Lions would obviously be difficult to take but, it was said, at least it would save Australia from having to put up with Deans for much longer.

A number of the players were supposed to be of that mindset, too. Quade Cooper's public fall out with the coach meant he has been left in naughty-boy exile, and a variety of others having been flying close to the sun, too.

O'Connor, Kurtley Beale and Digby Ioane have all erred in a fashion suggesting lawlessness prevails. And some of their actions might have given Deans a nudge closer to the exit - were it not for last week's win.

They could still see him off if they subside today. There is too much riding on it to think they could possibly have an ulterior motive, though, isn't there?

 

Be the new Justin Harrison

You don't have to be an all-time great to become a Lions series legend. John Bentley in 1997. Justin Harrison in 2001. Tendai Mtawarira in 2009. Each has their moment in rugby lore which they will be able to dine out on forever.

Harrison's decisive line-out steal inside his own 22 in the deciding Test in 2001 is the most pertinent in this case. He said in an interview in the Australian press this week that it is still the icebreaker he gets most from rugby fans.

"I remember the Lions Test ... What did you do after that?" he says he hears all the time.

To which he replies. "I played four more years for Australia and 33 more Tests."

Yeah, but whatever. Everyone knows what happens in Lions series echoes forever. All the more so in a decider.

All the Wallabies know that, barring a George Smith-style revival in their late careers, today is their great chance to do something enduring. Their place in history awaits.

pradley@thenational.ae

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