x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Deans takes risk with loyalty to Beale and O'Connor for second Lions Test

Australia keeping faith with controversial pair for match in Melbourne is a brave move as the British & Irish Lions face glorious chance to win a series, writes Paul Radley.

Kurtley Beale has the chance to repay the faith put in him by Australia coach Robbie Deans in the second Test against the British & Irish Lions.
Kurtley Beale has the chance to repay the faith put in him by Australia coach Robbie Deans in the second Test against the British & Irish Lions.

History beckons for the British & Irish Lionsin Melbourne today. Win, and they will have their first Test series success in 16 years.

It is fair to think the touring side will never have a better chance. Given the problems that have continued to afflict their hosts in Australia, on the surface there appears to be only one winner.

Repaying the faith

Depending on which way you look at it Robbie Deans, the Wallabies coach, either has the patience of a saint or entirely spartan resources.

If he had a broader base of players from which to choose, he would have been well within his rights to jettison a bad-news gang of players who have persistently undermined his tenure.

But he has not. So, while Quade Cooper is the one naughty boy being kept in exile, Deans keeps giving the likes of James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale enough rope.

O'Connor has been disciplined in the past for breaking team rules. In the latest in a line of misdemeanours, Beale missed a month of the Super Rugby recently for punching a teammate, then underwent treatment for alcohol misuse.

Then they were pictured out at 4am in midweek. Hardly the crime of the century, but still an unnecessary distraction between such important Test matches.

Yet Deans sticks by them - and actively champions their cause. Beale's return to the fold last week, for example, was "outstanding" according to the coach.

If they are going to repay the faith their coach has showed in them, they could start by not missing 14 points worth of kicks at goal today.

It never rains ...

Deans must be wondering what he has done to upset everybody. Most things that could go wrong have done for him and his team.

Already without leading players like David Pocock and Scott Higginbotham before this series even started, the door to the medical ward was swinging off the hinges last week.

Three Australian players were knocked out cold in the opening half of the series. At least Christian Leali'ifano, the nominated kicker, has beaten concussion to play today.

Injuries have been the lesser of some of the evils blighting the Wallabies, though.

Digby Ioane, officially absent due to injury, brought more embarrassment on the Australia set up this week when he was issued an arrest warrant after skipping a court date for an assault charge.

What is it with this team and court appearances? Even James Horwill, a player vital to Wallaby chances, was in front of a judicial inquiry for an alleged stamp this week.

He was initially cleared - then the IRB decided they wanted to revisit the case in the light of some apparently damning video evidence.

Counting chickens

Everything is going well for the Lions at present. They are winning, their conduct is garnering commendations - and they even do a fine line in morale climb-downs.

When George North crossed for his wonder try last week, he punctuated it with a celebratory wag of the finger at his would-be tackler, Will Genia.

It brought to mind the case of Delon Armitage, the former England full-back, who essayed a similar gesture when going over for Toulon in the Heineken Cup final at the end of the European season.

Armitage was widely chastised for lacking class. He then consolidated that theory by getting involved in an ugly social media row over it with a former player turned commentator.

There is a thin line between euphoria and hubris. North reckons he crossed it, too. But he apologised for it.

"Looking back I feel horrendous for doing it now," North was quoted as saying by the Press Association. "Rugby is a gentleman's game and that shouldn't be involved in the game."

Ringing the changes

Never change a winning formula? Not if your name is Warren Gatland. The Lions coach wants to settle the series at the first opportunity and has swapped a third of his starting personnel to make it happen.

Gone are players who were supposedly Gatland favourites, such as the injured Mike Phillips and Alex Cuthbert, who has dropped to the bench.

Tom Croft has been replaced at blindside, while injuries also accounted for Paul O'Connell and Alex Corbisiero.

"I don't care how ugly the game is on Saturday as long as we win," Gatland was quoted as saying. "We are desperate to win the game and the series.

"To play away from home against one of the top three countries in the world is a tough ask.

"We are desperate for the Lions to be successful."

pradley@thenational.ae