O'Connor's pre-debut advice for "composed" Petaia

Rugby World Cup
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

James O’Connor is one of the few people who knows exactly what Jordan Petaia is going through in the wake of his Wallabies debut.

When Petaia ran out for the Wallabies against Uruguay he became the youngest Aussie debutant since O’Connor, who played his first Test in 2008 as an 18-year-old.

Teenage O’Connor and teenage Petaia seem two worlds apart and the elder of the two said he could see the differences between the two when he spoke to Petaia on the eve of the Uruguay match.

“I got to speak to Jordy the night before the game and all I passed onto him was almost what was passed on to me, it was just, ‘focus on your defence and get yourself in the game early and the big moments will come’,” he said.

“You’re going to be very excited and adrenaline's going to be flowing. It's just (about staying) composed and I think one thing he does have is that composure.

“He's quite a calm presence on the field and then when he gets the ball, he switches into game mode. 

“He plays in the moment very well so possibly he's a bit calmer than I was on my debut, that's for sure.”

When Petaia has had high expectations placed on him in recent years, his debut will only enhance his reputation when he returns home and O’Connor said he felt that wasn’t something the 19-year-old needed to worry about.

“I’ve spoken to his folks briefly about that sort of stuff but I think that’ll more come when we settle into the Reds and whatnot,” he said.

“He’s got a pretty level head on him, I think he's been brought up very well and obviously he's got a job at hand to do here and once he goes back things will change for him but that’s not for now,” he said.

“I'm focusing on me and our job, just for the rugby right now, that sort of stuff can come after the Cup.”

Petaia’s performance, and that of outside centre Tevita Kuridrani, against Uruguay might have put a touch of heat on O’Connor with the trio competing for the same spots in the team.

O’Connor said he saw himself as a different type of player to Kuridrani and Petaia, though, happy to play in any position to unleash them.

“I think we all knew Jordan was going to carve up, I've seen it at training, he’s a freak athlete and his composure for his age is well above anyone at that age level,” he said.

“He had some great touches and you saw him getting work rate and good vision, connecting up with Kurtley (Beale) well and I wasn't surprised but it's very encouraging to have someone who can finish that well in your team, you want to give them the ball.

“That does put a bit of pressure on me but I see my role in the team (as) a distributor.

“As much as I have a running game, I look to shift to those guys first and foremost.

“I might have 13 on my back but I'm playing as our second ball-player.”

The Wallabies take on Georgia on Friday October 11 at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, kicking off at 7:15pm local, 9:15pm AEDT, LIVE on Foxtel, Network Ten and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO, Rugby Xplorer and Amazon Alexa.