Down Under: Time for Wallabies to give O'Connor a chance

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika needs to swallow his pride and recall James O’Connor.

Alex Broun
by Alex Broun
17th April 2017

article:17th April 2017

The once Wallaby wonderkid O’Connor, last time he wore the green and gold back in 2013.
The once Wallaby wonderkid O’Connor, last time he wore the green and gold back in 2013.

You are going to think I’m crazy, but Wallabies coach Michael Cheika should bite the bullet and recall wild-child James O’Connor.

You may dismiss this as a lame attempt to deflect attention from the ongoing soapie, “Which Australian Super Rugby team gets the chop this week?” but hear me out.


It’s dark times for Australian rugby. The five, soon to be four, Australian teams in not-so-Super Rugby have hit a new low. Out of 34 matches played so far by the five flunkees, they have won a grand total of 10 and lost 24.

Even more alarming is that only three of those ten wins have come against teams from South Africa or New Zealand. To be precise all three have been against South African teams.

The record against New Zealand teams this year stands at Played 12, Won 0, Lost 12. The national record is only slightly better.

Since their surprise run to the 2015 Rugby World Cup final the Wallabies have won just six out of 15 tests, including four losses on the bounce to England.

The reason to put it bluntly is cattle, or rather the lack of. Australia simply does not have the players to compete against the big boys of the international game – namely England and New Zealand.

And one thing that is not happening in Super Rugby this year, is the uncovering of future Wallabies. Indeed the brightest possibility that has emerged is 30-year-old exleaguie, Karmichael Hunt.

The best thing to happen over the last six months has been the news that Waratahs playmaker Kurtley Beale has been lured back from an impressive stint with English Premiership leaders Wasps.

No doubt Cheika, who nurtured Beale during his stint coaching the NSW Waratahs, had a big part to play in re-signing ‘KB’ through until World Cup 2019 in Japan.

So while he’s tempting big guns to return Cheika could do worse than navigating a path for Beale’s one time partner in crime, O’Connor back to Wallaby gold.

O’Connor’s last disastrous spell in Australian rugby was in 2015 when the Reds cut him at the end of one poor season. You know the Reds. They are the team that have finished 13th, 13th and 15th in the last three years of Super Rugby.

There is another famous name also cut from the Reds after one season – a certain Eddie Jones. He isn’t doing too badly these days.

Yes, O’Connor has had his share of off field controversies, his latest being a dalliance with an All Black and a white powder in Paris, but the kid can play.

In his test career to date he has played 44 matches for 22 wins and 223 points, including 14 tries. Compare that with Beale who has scored 12 tries in 60 tests or Quade Cooper, eight tries in 67. Cooper is a good yardstick here.

As a Wallaby fan, who would you rather have on your team sheet – O’Connor or Cooper? And as a non Wallaby fan who would you rather not come on to the field with 10 minutes to play in a tight Bledisloe Cup match – O’Connor or Cooper?

The answer to both those questions is O’Connor. I’m not saying that it won’t take considerable management both to get him back in the Wallaby environment and re-signed to whoever remains out of the Tahs, Reds, Brumbies, Rebels and Force – but what are the Wallabies options?

James O'Connor.

James O’Connor.

The bottom of the barrel was scraped some time ago. If you say that it’s beyond Cheika’s ablities to manage O’Connor – you’re wrong.

It would be a good challenge for Cheika and immensely better for O’Connor as a man and a player to have a strong male role model like Cheika, who – don’t forget – also had his troubles off the field as a youngster.

Remember Todd Carney, Josh Dugan, Blake Ferguson – even Kurtley Beale? All famous bad boys who did things you thought at the time were unforgiveable and have gone on to again hit the heights.

Why shouldn’t O’Connor, who is still only 26, be given the same chance? But the best example of bad boy come good is Sonny Bill Williams. Remember the uproar in 2008 when he slipped out the back door to play French rugby?

Nine out of 10 people in Australia were looking for the tar and feathers. Ever since there have been regular dramas and quirks – some good, some bad.

The latest regarding certain logos on jerseys. But thanks to superb management from the NZRU and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, SBW is one of the best and most popular players in the world. Could a similar miracle be worked with JO’C?

AFL

You know times are tough when coaches start quoting The Boss – and that is exactly what beseiged Hawthorn Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson resorted to.

The Hawks face Geelong Monday in a huge clash at “The G”, desperate to find their first win of the season.

They are 0-3 and sit stone motherless last on the table. “Bruce Springsteen has got a great song” said Clarkson, “Hard times come, hard times go. We’re going through a hard time at the minute but we’re really, really strong in our resolve to pull ourselves out of this pickle.”

Clarkson couldn’t get the song title right, it’s actually ‘Wrecking Ball’, but hopefully his team can get the win.

Alastair Clarkson.

Alastair Clarkson.

NRL

It’s every blue-blooded New South Welshman’s greatest nightmare but Melbourne Storm and Queensland fullback Billy Slater is getting back to his best. Slater had a superb game for Melbourne in their topsy-turvy 30-26 win over the Sea Eagles, his fifth match since returning from a shoulder injury, and the 33-year-old is threatening to recapture top form just in time for State of Origin game one in Brisbane on May 31.

A-League

Sydney FC have eclipsed the Brisbane Roar team of 2010-11 to become (arguably) the greatest A-League team of all time.

With the 2-0 win over Newcastle Jets, the Sky Blues bettered the 65 points that Roar secured, where they played 30 games instead of the current 27.

But that’s just one of the many records the Premiers broke during one of the greatest A-League seasons ever.

Now they just have to make their way through the play offs to actually be crowned champions.

It will all mean nought if they lose the Grand Final on May 7.


Share

Comments

We Recommend

Related Tags

Related Stories