The Australian

An All Black does Wallabies a favour

- EMMA GREENWOOD

An All Black legend’s captaincy gamble on a former wild child James O’Connor may have unlocked his full potential and be the key to the Wallabies winning the Bledisloe Cup for the first time in almost two decades.

O’Connor has been in outstandin­g form at flyhalf for the Queensland Reds and leads the Super Rugby AU competitio­n for points scored, as well as sitting in the top 10 for carries (equal eighth) and defenders beaten (equal fifth).

But it is former All Black and Reds coach Brad Thorn’s decision to hand O’Connor captaincy duties while regular leader Liam Wright was sidelined with an ankle injury, that may prove a masterstro­ke not just for Queensland, but Australia.

O’Connor headed into camp in Sydney with the Wallabies this week, as coach Dave Rennie’s preliminar­y squad of 40 met ahead of the internatio­nal season that includes Tests against France in July before the Bledisloe Cup series when Australia will try to break an 18-year trophy drought.

While he is the incumbent at No 10, O’Connor is a more polished player than he was even 12 months ago, and certainly two years ago when he made his return to Australia ahead of the 2019 World Cup.

A key reason has been his ability to shake off niggling injuries that had shackled him for years.

But it’s been his new-found focus on the needs of others that could help unlock his true potential.

“Through my career I’ve always been pretty individual,” O’Connor said.

“A big part of my growth moving into 10 was I had to learn to serve the team before myself and then the captaincy is another level – it’s not just on the field, it’s a lot of the stuff off the field and making sure all of the moving parts are coming together correctly.”

Plenty thought the Reds daft when they offered O’Connor a Super Rugby contract in 2019, given his past indiscreti­ons. But the move has paid off, with the 30year-old’s tactical understand­ing of playmaking at a high, while he has finally returned to top physical shape and has the confidence to take opponents on to create opportunit­ies for his outside men.

“My understand­ing of the game is just continuall­y growing,” he said.

“Now I’m playing 10, I need to be able to cover more space, I’m looking for second touches.

“The last thing to come was probably my top-end speed.”

 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? Reds captain James O’Connor at a Wallabies camp in Sydney yesterday. The flyhalf has matured into a fine leader
GETTY IMAGES Reds captain James O’Connor at a Wallabies camp in Sydney yesterday. The flyhalf has matured into a fine leader

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