Lions: Beale, O’Connor cleared over late-night photos

Simon Zebo, in a tackle which saw Lachlan Munro hit with a two week ban. Picture: AP
Simon Zebo, in a tackle which saw Lachlan Munro hit with a two week ban. Picture: AP
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AUSTRALIA backs Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor have been cleared of wrongdoing after being photographed in a Melbourne fast food restaurant in the early hours, four days before the second Test against the British and Irish Lions.

A British newspaper published the photo of the two players, posing with fans at around 3.50am local time, on its website. Beale and O’Connor, who play for Super Rugby side the Melbourne Rebels, had watched from the sidelines as the Lions beat their team 35-0 on Tuesday in the final midweek match of their tour.

Beale has only just returned to rugby after taking four months off following a string of alcohol-related incidents, including punching team-mates on a bus in South Africa.

“There has been a full and thorough investigation of the information,” the Australian Rugby Union said in a statement. “The two players were out last night, but they were not drinking – 10 witnesses we have spoken to corroborated that.” The statement added that, after the match, Beale and O’Connor went to a function with Rebels team-mates and some Lions players before stopping to pick up food on the way home.

“Both players are adamant that they didn’t drink and we have checked that out thoroughly. James O’Connor was driving. They have not broken any team protocols,” the ARU said. “These players have done nothing wrong. Within the team protocols, they are expected to behave responsibly and show common sense but there are no curfews.”

The Wallabies lost the first Test 23-21 and Beale missed a last-minute penalty that would have sealed victory for the hosts after slipping. The second Test of the three-match series is in Melbourne on Saturday, with both teams due to be named in the early hours of this morning.

Meanwhile, Rebels wing Lachlan Mitchell has received a one-match ban for foul play during Tuesday’s game.

Mitchell was found guilty of a “tip tackle” on the Lions’ Irish wing Simon Zebo.

As the Lions look ahead to the Test, legendary Welsh full-back Neil Jenkins has hailed the “absolutely incredible” goalkicking performances of his Lions countryman Leigh Halfpenny.

Halfpenny will line up at full-back in Saturday’s second Test and his unrelenting accuracy could boot the Lions to a series victory. The Lions, 1-0 up and chasing a first Test series triumph for 16 years, have lost talismanic lock Paul O’Connell through injury, while England prop Alex Corbisiero is rated doubtful as he battles calf muscle trouble. But Welshman Halfpenny remains a potential match-winner. He has scored 78 points on tour so far, landing 27 from a possible 29 shots at goal, and is on course to break Jenkins’ Lions record of 41 points in a Test series. Lions kicking coach Jenkins said: “He’s been absolutely incredible – his record speaks for itself.

“He averages probably under one miss per game, which is incredible. He’s had an outstanding couple of years. We [Wales] spoke to Leigh a couple of years ago about trying to get it [goalkicking] full time for the Cardiff Blues. He was doing a lot of long-range stuff for us, but we felt the more kickers we had then the better for us, really.

“He’s pushed and pushed, worked hard, managed to get it for the Blues and then took over for us in Dublin (2012) against Ireland when Rhys Priestland missed a few and he has never looked back.

“Most kickers have very good temperaments and the guys here on the Lions tour have incredible temperaments.

“They are happy to rock up, irrelevant of the issues surrounding them. It might be a kick to win the game, the crowd, the amount of people watching on TV, they just seem to get into that zone. “