Rugby World Cup 2011

O'Connor benched for opener

2011-09-06 06:49
James O'Connor (Gallo)





Auckland - James O'Connor paid the price on Tuesday for missing an official team function when he failed to regain his starting place for the Wallabies' World Cup opener against Italy this weekend.

Coach Robbie Deans retained the starting XV that beat New Zealand 25-20 last month to clinch the Tri-Nations crown leaving out the 21-year-old star utility, who served a one-match ban imposed by the Australian Rugby Union.

O'Connor, who was one of Australian rugby's most valuable players and was the designated goalkicker before his disciplinary breach, was one of three changes among the reserves for Sunday's opener with the Azzurri at North Harbour.

"He (O'Connor) wasn't available to us in the last instance, he is on this occasion and he has been selected on the bench which is one step closer," Deans told reporters soon after the team's arrival in Auckland.

"It's like injuries and a lot of time is spent talking about players who are not available to you but the game is not about that, it's about the people who are available to you and those lucky enough to get the opportunity.

"Most players don't wait for those opportunities when they're presented with them and that's the key to make the most of the time you have got."

O'Connor is now down the Wallaby pecking order in the fallout from missing the official World Cup squad announcement and team photograph in Sydney.

He was suspended for a match and was unavailable when the Australians clinched their first Tri-Nations trophy in a decade with a 25-20 victory over New Zealand in Brisbane on September 27.

O'Connor's demotion gave Anthony Fainga'a the opportunity to press his case for Test selection against the All Blacks, while Adam Ashley-Cooper had his best game of the season on the wing.

"It's just part of the life cycle of a rugby team," Deans said.

"He's not alone and we will be only as good as how the squad approaches their work and he's one of those.

"There are blokes in the (starting) XV who may not stay in the XV and that's part of rugby life."

O’Connor is one of three changes to the reserves bench from the Brisbane Test with hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and prop James Slipper returning from injury for Saia Fainga'a and Salesi Ma’afu.

Quade Cooper will remain the designated goalkicker for the opening World Cup match.

Four Wallabies selected for the Italy opener have previous World Cup experience.

Lock Dan Vickerman features in his third tournament after appearing in the 2003 and 2007 editions, while winger Ashley-Cooper, flanker Rocky Elsom and hooker Stephen Moore were in France four years ago.

While Australia have never lost to Italy, the Azzurri have caused the Wallabies problems and Deans's team needed a late try to escape in Padua in 2008 and were pressed in a competitive 32-14 win in Florence last November.

"It's an important outing for us on Sunday, our continuity is good and it will need to be good because Italy will be lying in wait and we know we have to hit the ground running," Deans said.

"The Italians do love to scrummage, we are aware of that and we've had recent experience against them so we know what we are going into and we are looking forward to that."

Teams

Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5  James Horwill (capt), 4 Dan Vickerman, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu

Substitutes: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 James O'Connor

Italy:
TBA

 

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