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Wallaby playmaker to step up transition into new role

SPOTLIGHT: James O’Connor will step up his transition into coaching after signing a contract extension with the Queensland Reds that should also see him win a role on the staff of the Junior Wallabies.

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The 64-Test talent’s one-year extension at Ballymore will be announced on Wednesday and include a role in developing the Reds’ emerging talent.

Nudgee product O’Connor is already coaching at schoolboys level with rivals Churchie and under his new deal plans to assist the Junior Wallabies next year in a significant step towards his post-playing career.

No longer on a Rugby Australia top-up deal, the 32-year-old was always keen to remain in Brisbane and mentor emerging playmakers Tom Lynagh, Lawson Creighton and Harry McLaughlin-Phillips.

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Creighton in particular has leant on O’Connor this season, the pair constantly messaging about in-game strategy and tactics the former teenager wonder admits took him years to fully understand.

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Reformed bad-boy O’Connor’s eagerness to coach is a win for Australian rugby, the backline ace a tale of caution and redemption that has taken him around the world and back again.

Debuting for the Western Force in 2008 and the Wallabies in the same year as an 18-year-old, O’Connor amassed 44 caps before he turned 24.

Twice he embarked on stints in Europe with a failed stint at the Queensland Reds in between, his off-field antics culminating in a 2017 arrest and two nights in a Parisian jail.

He was offered another shot by the Reds and Rugby Australia in 2019, playing his first Test in more than five years and winning selection for his second World Cup.

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Starring roles for the Reds since have been curbed by injury, while O’Connor still hopes for a World Cup call-up despite not featuring since a poor showing in a heavy loss to Argentina last year.

This deal has been in the works for months but comes after the arrival of new Reds coach Les Kiss.

O’Connor endorsed Kiss on the eve of his announcement and also said he hadn’t given up hope of Eddie Jones recalling him for the World Cup, despite not featuring in the Bledisloe Cup squad.

“I can’t pick myself but my rugby’s been consistent,” he said.

“I’ve shown I can play different positions, am putting my hand up but the reality is it’s someone else’s call.

“Every couple of years the game changes; if you don’t adapt you fall behind.

“World Cup rugby is based on territory, collisions and one mistake can change the whole game.

“Eddie’s talking about discipline, that’s a big part of it too.”

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