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Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
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# KICKING THEMSELVES
Beale still of a confident mould as he takes heat off O'Connor
The player’s slip-up prevented one of sport’s great comebacks.

AUSTRALIAN OUT HALF James O’Connor wore the expression of a relieved man despite the Wallabies’ 21-23 loss to the Lions in the first Test of their series on Saturday.

After the hosts had stormed back from a 12-20 deficit in Brisbane, Kurtley Beale missed two late opportunities to tip the scales Australia’s way.

The slip during his dramatic last-gasp penalty attempt understandably grabbed all the attention and O’Connor entered the post-match arena still as the golden boy.

“I did think about taking it, I’m not going to lie,” said O’Connor, dropping his fellow Rebel in it to some extent. “But Kurtley came on and he was playing well, he made a huge difference in attack.

“Off the boot as well, he was calm and kicked some nice ones earlier on. It was unfortunate he just slipped there. Not giving excuses, but the pitch wasn’t great.”

What O’Connor left out, was that Beale was only handed kicking duties because the starting number 10 was having, at best, a mixed from the tee.

Granted, Christian Lealiifano was due to take the responsibilities before his game was ended prematurely by a Jonathan Davies tackle after 50 seconds, but O’Connor’s profligacy cost the Wallabies eight points in a tight first half.

“I wasn’t happy off the boot,” he later added. “I hadn’t practiced as much [as usual] with my hamstring – you can’t make excuses, I put my hand up and you’ve got to roll with the punches and come back bigger and stronger.

[In] set-piece and phase and all-round game I was pretty happy. We got on top of them a few times with Izzy [Folau] in the corner, but we didn’t make enough of them [chances]. If we could have recycled a few more pills that we lost there it wouldn’t have had to come down to kicking.

Putting the boot in

It did, however, and Leigh Halfpenny’s ratio remained solid with five successes from six as the Wallabies second and third choice kickers hit four from nine.

“The ground was a bit loose under the feet,” groaned Kurtley Beale, as if he needed reminding. ”But there are no excuses. That’s rugby and it’s just part of the challenge.”

With an assertion flying from Gatland that his moulded studs were to blame, Beale took umbrage, telling the Herald Sun:

“I have been playing in mouldeds all my life. There’s no superstition about it. It is a game of rugby, everyone wears rugby boots.”

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“I’ve played on rugby fields all over the world and the Suncorp last night was no different. It was just unlucky and, hopefully, given the opportunity next weekend, I’ll be able to prove myself again.”

What turned out to be a let-off for the touring Lions was also a loose sod that denied us of an inspirational comeback story. It’s not long ago since he was considered by many the best fullback on the planet while with the Queensland Reds. However, since his move south to Melbourne his form took a sharp decline – his position changed too after Danny Cipriani returned to England.

Beale admitted to alcoholism earlier this year after being sent home from a Rebels trip to South Africa. A suspension followed, meaning a late call-up to Robbie Deans’ squad. A slightly firmer footing and he would have been a continent’s hero again rather than a laughing stock.

Despite the fickle nature of sport, Beale insists he is confident and it’s easy to imagine him righting the wrongs of Saturday when the Wallabies seek revenge.

O’Connor’s story and life-experience is much shorter, but he summed up the mood in the Wallaby camp best: “It’s a different hurt to what I’ve felt before. It’s sort of like the World cup semi-final all over again.

“But it’s positive, we know we could have won that game If a few more little touches had gone our way; a few more recycles, a few kicks at goal those little things just hurt us.”

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