Controversy overshadows Wallaby selection

Controversial claims of a drunken fight between three of Australia's biggest names have overshadowed team selection for Saturday's Tri Nations decider with New Zealand. [more]

Controversy overshadows Wallaby selection

Controversial claims of a drunken fight between three of Australia’s biggest names have overshadowed team selection for Saturday’s Tri Nations decider with New Zealand.

The Wallabies could end a 10-year Tri Nations drought with victory in Sydney but media focus has been directed towards rumours of a bust-up between Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor.

The trio were rumoured to have come to blows during last November’s end-of-season tour of Europe.

Fullback Beale was pictured with a black eye prior to the record-breaking 56-19 drubbing of France in Paris, but the Australian Rugby Union has found no grounds to take action against any of the three players after an internal investigation concluded this week.

Cooper and Beale faced the music earlier today, with the pair insisting that the media were making a meal of a minor altercation.

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"We wouldn't be sitting here as best mates if there was any issues," said Cooper.

Those thoughts were echoed by Wallaby coach Robbie Deans, who believes rumours of substantial fines and of police involvement have wrongly damaged his players’ reputation.

"There's been a lot of suggestions that are just fallacy,” said Deans.

“Some of the suggestions are pretty grave, whether it be police or fines. Where that comes from, I don't know.

“It was a typical Test week. These blokes have told you they had a disagreement, it wasn't of a significant nature. They had an argument, as people who are close do. Beyond that, there was nothing."

The unwanted press speculation has meant Deans’ decision to make three changes to his starting XV  for the latest Bledisloe Cup clash has received less column inches than it would otherwise have done so.

Deans has given a first Test start in seven years to Reds No8 Radike Samo, while Cambridge University Blue Dan Vickerman is named at lock.

The solitary change in the backline comes after O’Connor was suspended for the match for breaking team protocol.

The young wing missed the World Cup squad announcement after sleeping in following a night on the town.

Deans has therefore opted to move Adam Ashley Cooper to the wing, with Anthony Fainga'a named in midfield.

Australia beat South Africain Durban a fortnight ago to make it two wins from three games in this year’s shortened Tri Nations.

A revenge win over the All Blacks would secure a first tournament success since 2001 and Deans insists that breaking a decade’s worth of drought, and not winning next month’s World Cup, is the focus for this weekend.  

"The group showed a lot of character to bounce back in South Africa but no one in our party is getting ahead of themselves," added Deans.

"The All Blacks are not the benchmark in world rugby without good reason.

"Obviously there is a lot of rugby coming up in New Zealand, and there will inevitably be expectations around the impact that this weekend might have on that.

"But while a lot is going to happen beyond Saturday, we can't afford to and won't be looking beyond this game."

Australia (vs New Zealand, Saturday, 11.05am BST)

Kurtley Beale; Adam Ashley-Cooper, Anthony Fainga'a, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, Dan Vickerman, James Horwill, Rocky Elsom, David Pocock, Radike Samo

Repleacements: Saia Fainga'a, Salesi Ma'afu, Rob Simmons, Ben McCalman, Scott Higginbotham, Luke Burgess, TBC

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