Reds’ masterful move
O’Connor crucial to success
YOU could count on one hand how many people in Australia thought signing James O’Connor was a good idea in 2019.
After his botched comeback in 2015, where he returned to Europe less than a year after signing with the Reds, the decision to bring back O’Connor shocked the game.
But what you didn’t know is the bad boy of Australian rugby sacrificed hundreds of thousands of dollars to return.
O’Connor was understood to be on $800,000 per season at English club Sale.
He was lured home by the Wallabies jersey and took a massive financial hit, as he signed a deal worth an estimated $300,000.
Less than two years later, few could have imagined how successful the punt on him would have turned out to be.
On Saturday, the 30-year-old masterminded the Reds’ 24-22 comefrom-behind win over the Brumbies to continue their unbeaten streak in 2021 and seal their first home final since James Horwill lifted the Super Rugby trophy in front of a sold-out Suncorp Stadium a decade ago.
His two second-half cross-field kicks which resulted in tries and decision to – first – point to the posts from penalties and – second – to kick the high-pressure goals showed just how skilful and mature he’s become.
His match wasn’t perfect.
Without direct-running centre Hunter Paisami, the Reds struggled to get across the gain-line and O’Connor was too lateral in attack and failed to take the ball to the line square, as his intercept pass to Tom Banks showed.
But when something needed to change, O’Connor stood tall.
It’s why he’s considered the frontrunner to hold onto the Wallabies No.10 jersey when Dave Rennie’s men play France in June.
The spectacular nature of O’Connor’s comeback has even sparked calls to make the 55-Test back the Wallabies captain.
Last month Rennie said he had been in regular dialogue with captain Michael Hooper, who is widely respected by the Wallabies playing group, in Japan, but the New Zealander wouldn’t confirm whether he would retain the mantle.
The Wallabies’ record under his leadership is poor and with the rise of Fraser McReight at the Reds, there is a genuine feeling change is needed.
O’Connor, meanwhile, has turned heads as captain of the Reds this season in the absence of the injured Liam Wright.