Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Good time to be a Lion in Melbourne

James O'Connor. Photo / Getty Images
James O'Connor. Photo / Getty Images

The Lions led the back page in Melbourne, big headlines, too: "It's a miracle: Lions back from the dead."

Surely not in Melbourne, not where AFL is the premier sport and second and third and ...

Correct. The banner was misleading. Some team called the Brisbane Lions had dealt to Geelong with an inspired final quarter, a resurrection of Biblical proportions if you managed to digest a few paragraphs.

What the rugby tourists wouldn't give for that headline on Sunday while the Wallabies are hoping to find some way to win and take the series to a decider in Sydney.

The lead business story on the front of the same sports section, featured former ARU boss John O'Neill unveiling plans to expand a casino complex in Sydney.

It seems like we have left rugby behind and gone into some sports warp.

Brisbane was frothing about tomorrow's State of Origin and every minor detail to do with that clash, while there is only one winter code which matters in the southern city.

The only rugby link we had seen connecting Melbourne to rugby was a suggestive picture of a Wallaby gripping a Lion and a double entendre slogan etched into a farmer's field near Tullamarine Airport.

The Lions have to think through their locking options for the second test after losing senior lock Paul O'Connell with a fractured right forearm. That news filtered through the lineup of passengers about to board their flight south.

One man with an unmistakable burr to his voice reckoned that meant Scotland was about to join the tour as blonde shock-haired giant Richie Gray was a cert for the call-up. His mates derided the idea and wondered if he wanted to alter the tourists' name to British and Irish and Scots Lions.

O'Connell's exit occurred the morning after the Wallabies got some late respite from their injury carnage, when captain James Horwill was cleared of stamping at a judicial hearing. He should have bought a Lotto ticket on the way home but the Wallabies were due some fortune.

The guessing game and advice about their second test backline is widespread. Medical bulletins about Christian Leali'ifano, Pat McCabe, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Digby Ioane and Berrick Barnes will have an impact but the biggest decision for coach Robbie Deans is whether to retain James O'Connor at five eighths.

Deans had all year to assess the candidates - Quade Cooper, Barnes, O'Connor, Leali'ifano, Brendan Foley, Kurtley Beale and Matt Toomua.

They were all fit, the key was how they would gel with champion halfback Will Genia and implement Dean's strategies. O'Connor won the decision and no matter the verdict this week, there will be howls.

That will be irrelevant to Deans. A change will provoke all sorts of "told-ya-so" reactions, while a repeat selection will encourage gloom from another section of the Wallaby rugby landscape.

Had Beale not slipped and kicked that 47m goal in Brisbane, O'Connor's selection would not be such a fiery piece of con-jecture on the eve of the series' tie-breaker.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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