British & Irish Lions: Robbie Deans to give James O'Connor the start at fly-half for Australia
The Australia coach Robbie Deans is expected to take one of the biggest gambles of his career by selecting James O'Connor at fly-half for Saturday's first Test against the British & Irish Lions.
With Kurtley Beale deemed not ready to make the starting XV following his return from dealing with alcohol-related problems - he is likely to be included on the bench - O'Connor will act as the Wallabies' chief playmaker.
The series opener at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane will be only his second Test at fly-half, and given he is unproven in the position Deans's faith in his ability to pick apart the Lions' defence has the potential to backfire.
Quade Cooper has been overlooked by Deans, who announces his team on Thursday morning, while two other players capable of operating at stand-off will be picked elsewhere.
Berrick Barnes looks set to start at fullback and the inventive Christian Lealiifano has been earmarked for inside centre, where he appears to have been preferred to the more defensive Pat McCabe.
The remarkable career of Israel Folau will continue when he makes his Test debut on the right wing in his first season in professional rugby union.
Folau, 24, enjoyed a successful spell in league, winning seven caps for Australia and making five appearances for Queensland in the State of Origin before switching to the Australian Football League and then union.
Having won his fitness battle with a knee injury, Digby Ioane will fill the left-wing slot with Will Genia's unchallenged ownership of the No 9 jersey completing the back line.
While the Wallabies have a full compliment of fit three quarters, apart from Beale, they have encountered worse luck up front with David Pocock, George Smith, Scott Higginbotham, Sitaleki Timani and Tatafu Polota-Nau unavailable.
The debutant Ben Mowen and the openside flanker Michael Hooper will pack down either side of Wycliff Palu in the back row, and Kane Douglas will join the captain James Horwill in the second row
Benn Robinson and Ben Alexander are the likely starting props, with Australia's most capped hooker, Stephen Moore, offering experience.
Saturday's match is being viewed as critical to the outcome of the series, with the former South Africa coach Jake White suggesting the Lions will "crumble" if they lose the first Test.
Hooper, however, is refusing to stake everything on events at the Suncorp Stadium, pointing out that history proves a team can bounce back from defeat.
Meanwhile, Warren Gatland, the Lions coach, will be weighing the fitness of several players as he chooses his team.
George North, the Wales wing, has recovered from a tight hamstring and is available.
Tommy Bowe, the Ireland wing, suffered a broken hand but is recovering well.
Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins were sent home, and Jamie Roberts looks unlikely to recover from a hamstring injury in time to play in the first Test.
Manu Tuilagi suffered a pinched nerve in his neck and seems not quite ready.
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Published: June 19, 2013 04:00 AM