Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor, two-thirds of Australian rugby's "terrible trio", may not have breached any team protocols when they visited a Melbourne fast-food joint at a time far closer to breakfast than supper, but there was certainly a breach of trust. This much became clear today when the Wallaby coach Robbie Deans and one of his senior players, the centre Adam Ashley-Cooper, delivered their verdicts on the incident.
"Obviously, it wasn't an ideal hour to be out," said Deans, who, like the rest of the world, knew nothing of the escapade until Beale and O'Connor were photographed by a Lions supporter at around 4am on Wednesday morning. "We've had a conversation, for sure, and it wasn't a comfortable conversation. I understand that they wanted to catch up with their Melbourne Rebels club-mates after the midweek game against the Lions. They now understand that it was too late for them to be getting to bed."
Deans somehow managed to maintain a neutral expression through a long round of questioning on subject matter he would far rather have avoided, but he is no modern-day Laurence Olivier: he was quite clearly fuming. It was equally evident that Ashley-Cooper was less than impressed with his colleagues' little venture out of doors. "We're too far into our preparation for the second Test to let this be a distraction for us," he said frostily, "so it's been something for the management to deal with. The senior players can address it post-series."
However inappropriate their behaviour, both Beale and O'Connor will start Saturday's game - a contest in which the Wallabies must prevail if they are to take the Lions to a decider in Sydney in eight days' time. Beale, who came off the bench in Brisbane to make some telling contributions with ball in hand before handing the tourists victory with two late penalty misses, will play at full-back in place of the concussed Berrick Barnes. O'Connor will again feature at outside-half.
"I gave no thought to moving James out of the position," said Deans, who might easily have given his most versatile player a role in the outside backs and run Beale at No 10. "He'll be better for the outing he had last week because those were tough circumstances for him, with all the injuries affecting our midfield."
And Beale, fresh out of drinker's rehab and straight into the eye of the storm, in more ways than one? How are things with him? "I think Kurtley is a lot stronger now than he was a couple of years back," Deans said. "What he went through last week could have affected his belief, but the other things he's been through have strengthened his character. Such experiences do that to a man, provided he learns the right lessons from them. He has a big future, but like other players, he also has potential derailers out there. From what we're seeing, he can deal with that."
Deans has not been short of advice on how to improve Australia's chances of keeping the series alive, from recalling the veteran open-side flanker George Smith to smoking the pipe of peace with Quade Cooper (the third of the "terribles") and giving him free rein to work some magic in the No 10 position. Instead, he has stuck to his guns. In a second injury-enforced change, the ACT Brumbies wing Joe Tomane will win his second cap by replacing Digby Ioane. Everywhere else, it is as you were.
"We've looked at some footage of the 2001 series (when, by eerie coincidence, the Wallabies left Brisbane for Melbourne one down with two to play) but that was then and this is now," the coach remarked. "Our response to this situation will be owned by these players. I thought it was a remarkably brave performance by my side to put themselves in a position to win last weekend's Test under such difficult circumstances, but we can't presume anything: at this level, you have to earn everything you get. I don't know if this game can be more physical than the last one, but it's gonna be a ripper."Reuse content