O’Connor to get bigger role for Wallabies
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is set to move gifted young utility James O’Connor closer to the action on the two-match rugby union tour to Britain.
The squad of 26 named on Monday included three uncapped players, NSW backrower Dave Dennis plus Queensland backs Ben Tapuai and Ben Lucas.
Recalled prop Pek Cowan was the only other player chosen from outside the recent Rugby World Cup squad.
Nine World Cup players were unavailable for the tour, which comprises a clash with the Barbarians at Twickenham on November 26 and a Test against Wales at Millennium Stadium on December 3.
Kurtley Beale (hamstring), Drew Mitchell (hamstring), Pat McCabe (shoulder), Quade Cooper (knee), Wycliff Palu (hamstring), Rocky Elsom (hamstring), Dan Vickerman (shoulder), Sekope Kepu (eye) and Luke Burgess (French rugby) were all unavailable.
With Cooper and McCabe among the absentees, Deans indicated O’Connor, who has played primarily on the wing for Australia in recent times, could be moved to five-eighth or inside centre.
They are positions O’Connor has occupied for Western Force at Super Rugby level and he’s been keen to take on more of a playmaking role for the Wallabies as well.
“We’ve got an opportunity here,” Deans said on Monday.
“Obviously, James is 21 now, he’s starting to grow into his body and as he gets older he’ll be more able to cope with the rigours of the frontline.
“He’s expressed over time that it’s an area he’d like to play and, given our circumstance, it’s possible you might see him there.
“When you are looking at the players that we are taking, it’s very likely he will get the opportunity to step up and accept some of the greater responsibility that comes directing the game.”
Asked if that meant O’Connor would spend time at 10 or 12 Deans said: “Both are possibilities.
“He’s got so little background in both, but he’s clearly able in both.
“We’ll look at the big picture in terms of the team and then we’ll make those decisions.”
Given the short tour, Deans stressed there wasn’t a great deal of scope for experimentation.
He wasn’t concerned the Wallabies could struggle for motivation so soon after the World Cup in New Zealand, where they finished third and left feeling unfulfilled, according to Deans.
“There’s always the potential in terms of (lack of) meaning, but I don’t think that will be an issue with this group,” Deans said.
“I think you got an insight into that in the way they took to their work for the 3 v 4 play-off.
“I think they are very keen, Sure they are disappointed at their finishing position at the World Cup, but they are also very excited about the possibilities for them in the near future.”
© AAP 2013
Australia squad: Ben Alexander, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Pekahou Cowan, Dave Dennis, Anthony Faingaa, Will Genia, Scott Higginbotham, Matt Hodgson, Rob Horne, James Horwill (capt), Digby Ioane, Ben Lucas, Salesi Ma’afu, Ben McCalman, Stephen Moore, James O’Connor, Nick Phipps, David Pocock, Tatafu Polota Nau, Radike Samo, Nathan Sharpe, Rob Simmons, James Slipper, Ben Tapuai, Lachie Turner.
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