Tom Richards Cup - Australia v British & Irish Lions
James O'Connor 'pretty effective' at No.10
June 24, 2013
James O'Connor was the subject of Robbie Deans' greatest selection gamble © Getty Images
Robbie Deans has defended James O'Connor after the Wallabies playmaker was criticised for his performance against the British & Irish Lions in the first Tom Richards Cup Test at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday.
O'Connor was a controversial selection at fly-half after Deans omitted Quade Cooper from his Wallabies squad to face the Lions, and he seemed lost at times in just his second Test appearance in a No.10 jumper. There was speculation on Sunday that Deans would move Kurtley Beale into the pivotal position after the coach said after the first Test that O'Connor had endured a "difficult" night in the No.10 jersey, but the New Zealander was at pains on Sunday to say the Melbourne Rebels player's role in getting the Wallabies back to the brink of victory shouldn't be underestimated.
"James was a big part of working us back into the position to win that game and I don't think you should take that lightly because it doesn't happen easily against an experienced combination like the Lions," Deans said. "His first hit-out was pretty effective."
Deans, meanwhile, backed Beale to rebound after missing two penalty kicks in the final 10 minutes that could have given the Wallabies a famous win in Brisbane. And the player himself does not accept he would have kicked Australia to victory had he worn screw-in studs rather than moulded boots.
Robbie Deans has backed Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor%]
Lions coach Warren Gatland wondered on Sunday why a player would wear moulded boots rather than a pair with studs on a clearly greasy pitch, but Beale said "there's no excuses, that's just rugby".
Beale was bitterly disappointed to miss two penalty kicks in the final 10 minutes that he would normally have been expected to land, including the kick that saw him slip, but he said the debate about his boots was immaterial. "I was very confident going in with the kick but it was just one of those days," he said.
Beale said his well-publicised personal turmoil involving alcohol, and lack of game time after injury and suspensions, hadn't affected him, while Deans was glowing in his praise for the player, who came off the bench in the first half to replace injured fullback Berrick Barnes.
"It was quite simply an outstanding return to Test rugby," Deans said. "Kurtley is stronger now than he's ever been and I think that showed. He's a big part of this team and he'll remain that for as long as he wants to be, I suspect."