O'Connor relinquishes Reds captaincy
James O’Connor’s flirtation with captaincy is over after the “cooked” Queensland Reds title-winner opted against returning to the role this year.
Instead livewire scrumhalf Tate McDermott has been promoted to partner Liam Wright as co-captain for the new Super Rugby Pacific season beginning next month.
Wright’s long-term ankle injury on the eve of last season saw O’Connor parachuted into the captaincy and flourish, the former bad boy relishing the task as the Reds swept to the domestic title.
Injury hit though and he watched the bulk of the Wallabies’ Test season from the sidelines, only returning on the year-end tour after Quade Cooper had shone in his remarkable Test return.
With England due to tour and the 2023 World Cup on the horizon, O’Connor opted to shed those extra captaincy duties.
“James did a fantastic job in Liam’s absence but just driving the team as a flyhalf and leading the team in every other area, by the end of it he was pretty cooked and said so himself,” coach Brad Thorn said.
“[It’s about] taking that load off him and other guys have been putting their hands up.
“James has got a massive role as a No.10 for us and game leader; I’m sure he’ll be talking with Tatey and Liam … it doesn’t change too much.”
O’Connor’s emerging halves partner McDermott is 23 and has played 15 Tests.
His line-breaking ability, brave defence and improving kicking game have him positioned for a long Wallabies career.
Shining in his new role could strengthen McDermott’s case for a starting role at Test level, the potent ball-runner jostling for game-time with NSW Waratahs leader Jake Gordon and Brumbies and Wallabies first-choice No.9 Nic White.
Thorn described him as the “quintessential Queenslander from the Sunshine Coast”.
“Honest guy, works hard, all the things we like here; he has a humility about him, but belief and he’s about striving for excellence and the big one is he cares,” Thorn said.
The Reds will play pre-season games against the Western Force at Ballymore on February 5 and the NSW Waratahs in Roma on February 12 before their season opener against the Melbourne Rebels at Suncorp Stadium on February 19.