A week ago, Reesjan Pasitoa’s comprehensive display for the Western Force had no less a judge than Tim Horan clamouring for him to be fast-tracked as a future Wallabies fly-half.
It seems James O’Connor, one of the incumbents, took that personally.
Going head-to-head at 10 with the Force prodigy, O’Connor was simply unstoppable, whether by foot, hand or from the spot, to lead the Queensland Reds to a 29-16 victory.
With co-captains Liam Wright and Tate McDermott both missing through injury, and fill-in Lukhan Salakaia-Loto limping off during the match with a nasty ankle injury, O’Connor stepped up to lead the side once again with aplomb as well – there really was nothing he couldn’t do.
“James David O’Connor – an absolute masterclass. You play that well, you get the middle name mentioned!” Morgan Turinui proclaimed on Stan Sport after the match.
“He found opportunity, and the execution shows the quality of player he is. Executing in all that traffic – the moving pieces, finding the calm in the middle of it and making decisive decisions – was a huge point of difference.”
Despite a disjointed preparation due to the disastrous floods in the sunshine state – which saw the Reds only once able to train together during the week and led O’Connor himself to arrive at a session via canoe – the visitors withstood a spirited Force surge to the lead midway through the second half, twin tries set up by the playmaking star enough to secure an eventually comfortable victory.
Josh Flook did superbly to reel in an O’Connor grubber to score the go-ahead try in the 65th minute, before the result was sealed as Fraser McReight dived across less than five minutes later – you’ll never guess who set it up.
The performance led former coach Michael Cheika to proclaim that he’s rarely seen the veteran as determined to go the extra mile for the cause.
“I haven’t seen O’Connor animated like that in a long time,” he said.
“His visuals, his facial expressions, the way he was demanding players – he was in at rucks telling guys to get out. He really wanted to be a part of that game.
“I’d love to see him be like that every week cos he can improve his game even with all the experience he has.”
O’Connor was keen to deflect attention off his show-stopping match, however, praising teammates for enabling him to dictate terms.
“I just felt like tonight we got a little bit wider than it seemed, so it allows me to really move and play from 10 instead of just sitting behind the forwards and coming around the corner,” the 31-year old said after the match.
“We put a lot of work in this week, considering the floods and we only got one session together, we really broke our game apart and came up with some solutions after the last two weeks. I was really happy with how it connected.” JOC
“One of our pillars, we talk about being clinical and executing in the big moments. I think, in just those key moments, we got on top of them, which was really big for us.
“The first two games we didn’t really play with the ball, our plan was to literally have a two-phase execution. Tonight, we wanted to hold the ball, we knew the Force would want to hold the ball.
“It was always going to be a good contest if it was dry, and Perth really put it on for us.”
O’Connor was quick to dedicate the result to those in Queensland affected by the floods, saying the extra motivation to do it for the state played a crucial role in their second-half fightback.
“Caught a canoe to training on Tuesday. It’s been a huge week for Queensland, I’m really feeling for everyone in Brisbane. That win tonight was for you guys back home,” he said.
“We spoke about it a lot – digging deep for Queensland. The boys really wanted this one tonight, we wanted to win for our state and we did.”
Echoing that sentiment was the wounded Salakaia-Loto, while admitting the ‘captain’s curse’ affecting the Reds this season may have claimed another victim.
“It’s a bit of a captain’s curse at the moment, we’ll get back to the sheds and see how it is,” the acting skipper said of his ankle injury.
“Awesome fight shown by the boys tonight. It was Queensland spirit.
“It’s been a massive week for our state, so to be able to pull a result out there that was pretty tight and pretty tough against a really strong Force team… full credit to the lads, I’m just proud of the fight they put up tonight.
“Sending our thoughts and our love to everyone back home in Brissy, everyone who’s doing it tough at the moment. Hopefully the fight that we’ve shown in the jersey, and the spirit we’ve shown, can put a few smiles on people’s faces.
“They’ve lost loved ones and homes, personal belongings, so our thoughts and our prayers go out to everyone that’s affected by the floods.
“Hope to see you guys back on your feet, and anything that we can do, just give us a yell and we’ll be happy to help.”
Defeated captain Feleti Kaitu’u said after the match he felt his team matched the Reds in many aspects on the night, but conceded that just made the loss sting all the more.
“That one hurts,” he told Stan Sport.
“I thought we had them on the ropes there through quite a few periods in that game, but unfortunately we just fell short in converting that into points.
“As a collective, we just weren’t good enough tonight. We review hard, review honestly, and we chip away this week and make amends.”