'It genuinely hurt and I can admit that now'
Older, wiser and mentally stronger, James O’Connor would jump at a shot at playmaker redemption for the Wallabies.
Assured and creative performances when switched to flyhalf for the Queensland Reds’ past three Super Rugby matches have 29-year-old O’Connor in the frame for the vacant role when the Wallabies host Ireland in July.
A dashing outside back as a youngster, O’Connor admits he wasn’t ready to be Australia’s chief playmaker when thrust into the No.10 jersey by coach Robbie Deans in the cauldron of the 2013 British and Irish Lions series.
Criticism of his time in that position still stings but, encouraged by the new outlook on life he’s gained through his work with men’s wellness organisation Saviour World, O’Connor would love to erase those demons if given the chance by new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie.
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“It genuinely hurt and I can admit that now,” said 52-Test veteran O’Connor.
“Going back there now, you can’t run away from your problems, you can’t hide from things.
“You take them on and once you defeat it, that’s the whole point of living, to experience life and these sorts of things, these challenges.”
While he’s relishing being in the No.10 jersey for the Reds, O’Connor admits there’s plenty of room for improvement in his game.
The departures of Christian Lealiifano, Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper have put the Wallabies’ No.10 jersey up for grabs with Matt Toomua and Brumbies young gun Noah Lolesio the other main contenders.
“They’re both playing well. Obviously Matt’s been in the saddle a long time. I grew up playing with Matt and he’s an all-out No.10 I believe in my books. Controls the game well,” O’Connor said.
“Noah, he’s shown what he can do, played good attacking footy. It’s just a matter of time whether he can develop quick enough. It takes a while to learn how to play 10.
“You can play it at schoolboy or you can play it even at Super Rugby but at Test level, it’s a much different game and I found that out when I was younger.
“The margins for error are tiny. The pace of the game is higher, the contact’s are higher.
“Good luck to them both and good luck to me I guess as well.”