Lions in Australia

O'Connor wants another shot

2013-06-25 07:52
James O'Connor (AFP)

Sydney - After shanking three place kicks and watching his backline disintegrate in the torrid first test in Brisbane, Australia's James O'Connor could be forgiven for having second thoughts about playing flyhalf against the British and Irish Lions again.

Not a bit of it, the 22-year-old said on Tuesday, as he put his hand up for the playmaker role ahead of Saturday's all-important second test in Melbourne.

"One hundred percent. I'm not too fazed where I start but I would definitely love another crack at 10," O'Connor told reporters at a luxury hotel in Melbourne.

Whether he gets his wish remains to be seen.

Australian media have made their selection recommendations to coach Robbie Deans, some more diplomatically than others.

Most have concluded that O'Connor's stuttering display was par for the course for a player pushed out in front of Britain and Ireland's finest having had minimal experience in the pivotal position at test level.

In fairness, and with huge pressure on his shoulders after three of his backline teammates left on a stretcher, O'Connor improved in the second half of the 23-21 loss.

That he improved with his Melbourne Rebels teammate Kurtley Beale on the park, after he came off the bench to replace injured fullback Berrick Barnes, will not go unnoticed by Deans.

The performance of Beale, despite his own missed penalty kicks at the close, has heaped even more pressure on O'Connor's shoulders for the second clash at Docklands Stadium.

O'Connor said Beale's slip-up in front of the posts was already ancient history to the 24-year-old, who played in the number 10 shirt during the Wallabies' season-ending northern hemisphere tour last year.

"He's looking forward to the big picture and that's this Saturday," O'Connor said of Beale. "So wherever he plays he's going to create a big impact.

"Obviously we've lost Berrick to injury so he's putting his hand up for a number of different positions.

"He's going to be very handy for us. Like you saw when he came on, he just straightened up the attack quite nicely and he was awesome to play with - as he always is."

With Barnes lost for the second test, and centre Pat McCabe and winger Digby Ioane out for the series due to injuries, the versatile O'Connor could find himself the one shifted back or wide, rather than Beale.

Neither are likely to be handed the kicking duties again, however, with Christian Lealiifano "fit and ready", O'Connor noted. The inside centre's test debut ended within a minute of kickoff when he was knocked unconscious.

Since scoring a hat-trick of tries on debut as an 18-year-old against Italy, O'Connor has notched nearly 40 test caps and helped guide Australia to third place at the 2011 World Cup.

But nothing could prepare him for the fervour of Lang Park, where he felt "chills" and "goosebumps" as he ran out in front of a record crowd.

"It was an atmosphere I haven't experienced before. I've experienced it over in Europe, how passionate the crowd is and in the World Cup, but (Brisbane) was another level, another step up," he said.

Melbourne will be another step up again.

"I'm taking this game as the biggest one of my life," he added. "This game is do-or-die and we will be up for it, this is our game."


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