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Opinion

James O’Connor is the best player in Australia, but he needs to put his kicking boots on

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23rd February, 2020
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The Reds’ 64-5 flogging of the Sunwolves at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night provided some assurance to Reds fans that the promise the Reds showed during the three courageous losses at the beginning of the season can translate into spectacular wins.

The forwards were aggressive and disciplined, overwhelming the Japanese pack, while the back line was a symphony of direct runs, support play and offloads that resulted in a ten-try haul.

Conducting the orchestra was James O’Connor, who displayed his outrageous footballing talent in the ten jersey just like he had played there his entire career, instead of being shifted around the back line by various coaches to make the most of his legendary utility.

It is quite apparent that O’Connor is currently the best rugby player in Australia and the only player who should be assured of a Wallabies starting jersey.

James O'Connor

(Photo by Patrick HAMILTON / AFP via Getty Images)

However, one thing that was missing from O’Connor’s repertoire that could be make-or-break in tight games is his previously excellent goal-kicking. Brad Thorn started the season with Bryce Hegarty taking the goal-kicking duties from fullback, with Hegarty kicking at 100 per cent before being replaced by Jock Campbell with his more dangerous running game. This is a compromise, however, as Campbell has kicked at 64 per cent so far this season, a long way off the accuracy expected of a top-class goal-kicker.

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But in O’Connor the Reds have a proven world-class goal-kicker, if one out of practice. By resuming goal-kicking duties and working to get his accuracy back up to his previous standard, O’Connor would solve a big problem for the Reds and the Wallabies, where compromises are currently required when choosing the best goal-kicker and the best player in a given position.

O’Connor famously sealed Australia’s victory in the final Bledisloe Test in 2010 with a conversion in extra time, Greg Martin describing him as having “ice in his veins”.

Brad Thorn was on the field for the All Blacks that day too. He undoubtedly would have found O’Connor memorable for the wrong reasons. O’Connor did the same in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final against the Springboks with a penalty kick in the 72nd minute.

The O’Connor and Martin bromance may have been on the rocks for the five years that O’Connor was being a very naughty boy, but from their half-time interview on Saturday, they were getting along like old mates.

Wouldn’t James O’Connor’s rugby story of talent, misadventure and redemption be made that much more poetic if he was to kick winning goals coached by the All Blacks great who he once defeated, while it was memorably narrated by an old Wallaby with whom he has reconciled?

So get your goal-kicking boots on, James, and get practising. The fans have waited five years to get you back to Australia and we are looking forward to you doing more of what you did a decade ago, but better.