Australia 21 British & Irish Lions 23: O’Connell’s injury now big concern for victorious Lions coach Gatland

The British and Irish Lions are sweating on the fitness of arguably their most influential forward.

British and Irish Lions' Alex Cuthbert (left) celebrates after the final whistle with Jonathan Davies (centre) and Dan Lydiate (right)

Former Lions captain Paul O’Connell is nursing an arm injury, with the Lions saying he continues to be “treated and assessed”.

The 85 times-capped Ireland lock is an integral part of Lions head coach Warren Gatland’s plans as they head to Melbourne 1-0 up in the Test series against Australia.

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England forward Geoff Parling would be the obvious replacement if O’Connell is sidelined, while Ireland prop Tom Court, who is currently in his home city of Brisbane, will join the squad today as cover for Alex Corbisiero, who has a tight calf muscle.

British and Irish Lions' Alex Cuthbert (left) celebrates after the final whistle with Jonathan Davies (centre) and Dan Lydiate (right)

Court will go straight on to the Lions bench for tomorrow’s game against the Melbourne Rebels.

Away from the injury situation, Gatland questioned Kurtley Beale’s choice of footwear as a potential reason for his failure to kick the Lions’ first Test hopes into oblivion.

The Lions held on for a 23-21 victory at Suncorp Stadium, but it would have been different had substitute Beale landed a last-gasp penalty instead of it drifting wide after he slipped on impact.

“If I was a coach looking at Kurtley Beale coming on, I would be looking at the boots he was wearing,” said Gatland of the player, who missed a similar chance just moments earlier.

“He came on to the field wearing ‘mouldies’ and he slipped over taking that last kick. He slipped over on a couple of occasions. Why has he come out on the field wearing that sort of footwear in those sort of conditions?

“We’ve had these issues a lot with our players with Wales at the Millennium Stadium.

“It’s quite a slippery surface, and on a lot of occasions we’ve said to players to make sure they have the right footwear because it is a slippery surface and you have to turn up with the right tools. It’s part of your job, making sure that you are prepared.”

The Lions prevailed through tremendous tries in each half by Wales wings George North and Alex Cuthbert, while full-back Leigh Halfpenny kicked five from six shots at goal.

In contrast, Wallabies kickers Beale and James O’Connor saw 14 points go begging as the Lions ultimately repeated their opening Test win in Brisbane of 12 years ago and also overcame some erratic refereeing by New Zealand official Chris Pollock.

“A few players came off the field feeling a bit frustrated. They found it difficult (to understand) a couple of times when they were penalised,” added Gatland. “Mako Vunipola was penalised for coming in from the side, but he was part of the tackle, and that could have cost us the game at the end.

“One of the strengths of Brian O’Driscoll is his ability to get on the ball and create turnovers, and he just felt he wasn’t able to do that as part of his game because he had been penalised on a couple of occasions.

“He knew if he got penalised again he would get a yellow card, so he stayed away from the ball.

“Craig Joubert (second Test referee) is a very experienced referee. We’ll put last night behind us and it will probably be good for him (Joubert) having been an assistant referee in that match, on the sideline, to know about the pace of the game.

“I thought he was good in terms of the support he gave the referee, and I am looking forward to the number one referee in the world doing next Saturday.”

While Australia come to terms with a crippling injury list – they called three players into their squad yesterday, including veteran flanker George Smith – Gatland initially had a full roster to choose from yesterday before news of O’Connell and Corbisiero was released.

Ireland wing Tommy Bowe is set to be available following a rapid recovery from a broken hand, while Jamie Roberts (hamstring) is also on course and his fellow centre Manu Tuilagi will line up against the Melbourne Rebels after putting a shoulder problem behind him.

Bowe’s successful injury fight allowed Gatland to take a punt on North following his build-up to the opening Test being affected by a hamstring complaint.

“Tommy is one of the best players that we have got available to us and one of the reasons we took the risk on George North,” he said.

“If Tommy hadn’t been fit and available for this week, we probably wouldn’t have put George North in at the weekend because the medical staff were saying there was a reasonable chance that his hamstring wouldn’t last for 80 minutes.

“They have done a magnificent job because we found ourselves in the situation where we could take the risk on George knowing that Tommy would be fit for the second Test. If Tommy wasn’t fit, we probably wouldn’t have started George.”

The Lions are one win away from securing a first Test series triumph since defeating South Africa 2-1 in 1997 following their gripping 23-21 victory over the Wallabies on Saturday.

Expectation is at an optimum level among the thousands of travelling supporters, and Gatland’s biggest challenge this week could be keeping a lid on things.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any amount of complacency at all. I think these players are well aware they’ve got an opportunity to create their own history,” he said.

“Obviously, what happened in New Zealand in 2005 (the Lions suffered a 3-0 Test series defeat), part of the whole remit of 2009 (South Africa) for the coaches was to put some respect back into that red jersey.

“But this series isn’t about respect, it’s about delivering. For the Lions to continue as an entity we need to be successful, and I think world rugby wants the Lions to be successful as well.

“When you see the crowd and the atmosphere, it’s something special, something nothing else can create apart from a World Cup. We need to keep that fantasy or history alive.

“It’s difficult for the players to leave the hotel without being stopped on the street by everyone. A few of them have got a few disguises to try and sneak out for a coffee.

“But that’s the beauty of it. People have paid a lot of money to be here and saved up for a long time to experience it. You’ve got to give them a piece of it, and the players are part of that.”

Gatland also underlined the need for continued assessment of necessary preparation time when plans are drawn up for New Zealand 2017.

Australia: B Barnes (NSW Waratahs); I Folau (NSW Waratahs), A Ashley-Cooper (NSW Waratahs), C Lealiifano (Brumbies), D Ioane (Queensland Reds); J O’Connor (Melbourne Rebels), W Genia (Queensland Reds); B Robinson (NSW Waratahs), S Moore (Brumbies), B Alexander (Brumbies), K Douglas (NSW Waratahs), J Horwill (Queensland Reds, capt), B Mowen (Brumbies), M Hooper (NSW Waratahs), W Palu (NSW Waratahs). Replacements: S Fainga’a (Queensland Reds), J Slipper (Queensland Reds), S Kepu (NSW Waratahs), R Simmons (Queensland Reds), L Gill (Queensland Reds), N Phipps (Melbourne Rebels), P McCabe (Brumbies), K Beale (Melbourne Rebels).

British & Irish Lions: L Halfpenny (Wales); A Cuthbert (Wales), B O’Driscoll (Ireland), J Davies (Wales), G North (Wales); J Sexton (Ireland), M Phillips (Wales); A Corbisiero (England), T Youngs (England), A Jones (Wales), A-W Jones (Wales), P O’Connell (Ireland), T Croft (England), S Warburton (Wales, capt), J Heaslip (Ireland). Replacements: R Hibbard (Wales), M Vunipola (England), D Cole (England), G Parling (England), D Lydiate (Wales), B Youngs (England), O Farrell (England), S Maitland (Scotland).

Referee: C Pollock (New Zealand).