O’Connor’s licence to roam against Boks
Bold as brass, Wallabies wonderboy James O’Connor has no fears of marking world rugby’s best winger Bryan Habana with just 40 minutes of experience in the position.
Instead O’Connor, just turned 20, has vowed to create headaches for the Springboks by embracing a roving commission in attack in Australia’s Tri-Nations opener on Saturday night.
The elusive utility back is licking his lips at having a licence to roam and run off playmakers Quade Cooper and Matt Giteau at Suncorp Stadium.
“Once I get out on the field and into the phase attack you’ll see me all over,” O’Connor said on Wednesday.
“The way the game’s going now there’s a high (attacking) work rate for wingers whereas at 15 it’s more defensively a high work rate, so that could benefit my game.”
Former Wallabies winger Damian Smith strongly agrees and hailed his surprise switch to wing for the bigger Adam Ashley-Cooper to play fullback as a fantastic move by coach Robbie Deans.
Smith, who played 22 Tests in the 1990s, felt the exciting O’Connor should find a permanent home on the wing as he had a skill set to make him a David Campese-style game breaker.
“He’s a great attacking player and he reads the game so well and it just gives him the freedom to get into first receiver and run the ball and create,” Smith told AAP.
“I think he could end up playing there for quite a while.”
Until now the only time O’Connor — who has interchanged between fullback, inside centre and five-eighth for the Western Force — has played on the wing was in the second half of last-start 22-15 win over Ireland due to an injury-forced backline reshuffle.
While he will pop up all over Suncorp Stadium in attack, he has the huge assignment of containing speedster Habana in defence on the right flank.
It’s a baptism of fire he’s looking forward to, and is determined to continue a good record tackling the 2007 IRB player of the year.
“I’ve had a few one-on-ones with Habana in the past so it’s been a good experience so far,” O’Connor said.
“So far, so good.”
With Habana enduring a poor night in the 31-17 loss to New Zealand last weekend, there’s an expectation he’ll fire as the Springboks need to win to stay alive in their title defence.
But Wallabies selector and assistant coach Jim Williams has little doubt O’Connor can cope with the switch.
“Defensively I think he’s a great little defender and that’s not going to trouble him,” he said.
On the left wing, Drew Mitchell will start just two weeks after being dumped from the 30-man squad.
Williams said Mitchell had responded well to a blunt message.
“Just his attitude he takes into training and into a game is what we wanted to see an improvement in and he’s done that so far,” he said.
After watching New Zealand’s back three run and stun the Springboks in their opening two wins, O’Connor, Mitchell and Ashley-Cooper will play vital roles in doing the same off kick returns.
“We’ve been practising a lot of our counter-attacking this week,” O’Connor said.
“I think it’s going to be pretty quick and enjoyable.”© AAP 2013