Lions in Australia

O'Connor content to don No 10

2013-06-04 09:13
James O'Connor (File)
Sydney - James O'Connor is happy to be the target of attention from the British and Irish Lions if that means wearing the No 10 jersey for Australia.

O'Connor is the likely Wallabies flyhalf, despite only playing one of his 37 Tests in the key position, with Quade Cooper seemingly on the selection outer and Kurtley Beale still working through off-field issues.

The Lions backline in the three-Test series could include some heavyweight midfielders and wingers, and of course there'll be forwards charging at him from the fringes of rucks and mauls.

But O'Connor says he's prepared for anything.

"When you do put that 10 jersey on - if I do get the opportunity - you are always targeted there. It's the closest channel off the scrum," he said during the Wallabies camp in Sydney on Tuesday. "It's no different to some of the big Kiwi boys, or even some of the guys we've got running around Australia."

O'Connor made his Test debut as a replacement against Italy in 2008 and will still be 22 when the first Test between Australia and the Lions kicks off in Brisbane on June 22. He'll turn 23 the day before the third Test in Sydney on July 6.

He has played mainly at fullback and wing for Australia, but has spent time in the centres and played his last test at flyhalf, in a win over Wales at Cardiff in late 2011, before injuries ruled him out of the 2012 international season.

O'Connor said 2012 "was probably one of the lowest points of my career to date. But I'm in a good space at the moment and
the team environment is really up."

Cooper spent time on the sidelines with injuries last year, then was fined when he rejoined the Wallabies squad after complained about the "toxic" environment. He was fined by the Australian Rugby Union and wasn't included in Robbie Deans' initial 25-man squad for the Lions series, with the coach saying Cooper needed to prove himself in the front line of defence.

Cooper narrowly won a Super Rugby duel with O'Connor last weekend, guiding the Reds to a comeback win over the Melbourne Rebels despite two glaring errors in his kicking game that resulted in charge-down tries for the visitors.

The 38-Test veteran gets his last chance to impress Deans when the Reds play the Lions on Saturday night. Beale, meanwhile, is training with the Wallabies in Sydney despite not being part of the squad and having spent most of the last two months on the sidelines dealing first with injuries, then suspension by the Melbourne Rebels and counselling for alcohol-related issues.

O'Connor said Beale seemed to be fit and was "buzzing" around the training fields.

"He's bringing a great vibe around training and all the boys are getting around him and supporting him," O'Connor said. "KB is a character. He brings positivity and he does bring that buzz to training and a team environment."

The Lions open their nine-match Australian tour against the Force in Perth on Wednesday night, and are coming off a 59-8 win over the Barbarians in Hong Kong last weekend. The Lions will play the Force, Reds, Waratahs and Brumbies and a 'combined country' team before the first Test.

The Lions haven't won a series since 1997 in South Africa, and lost 2-1 on their last visit to Australia in 2001 despite a comprehensive win in the opening Test.

Ireland centre Brian O'Driscoll, who made his debut in the 2001 series and is on his fourth Lions tour, will lead the team against the Force. Flank Sean O'Brien is among the other Irishmen in the 23-man playing squad.

"It's an exciting time for us, but we won't think too far ahead," O'Brien said on Tuesday. "We won't get bogged down in having pressure on us to win the series."

O'Brien said despite a series of injuries for the Wallabies, he didn't expect the home team to be easy pickings.

"I don't think they're vulnerable at all," he said. "The players they've selected are very dangerous. And I'm sure Beale and (Quade) Cooper will come into the fray at some stage. We won't be under-estimating them, that's for sure."

Lions coach Warren Gatland has selected a completely new starting line-up for the second match of the tour, and O'Brien said competition for starting spots was intense within a squad featuring 15 Welshmen, 10 Irish, nine Englishmen and three Scots.

"We have the best players from the four countries fighting it out," he said. "The lads know if they're not performing, they're not going to be in. I think it's a good thing to have that little bit of fear in the squad. The competition is a massive part of that."

Read more on:    australia  |  lions in oz  |  james o'connor  |  rugby

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