'I’ve always been very individual': How captaincy, move to flyhalf has redefined James O'Connor

Tue, 13/04/2021, 07:30 am
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
James O'Connor trains during Wallabies camp. Photo: Andrew Phan/Wallabies media
James O'Connor trains during Wallabies camp. Photo: Andrew Phan/Wallabies media

James O'Connor has revealed how a change in position and responsibilities has helped redefine how he looks at the game.

After returning to Australia as a centre, O'Connor made the switch to flyhalf at the start of 2020.

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He would instantly thrive in the role, engineering the Reds' push to the Super Rugby AU finals before being selected for the Wallabies.

As O'Connor continues to familiarise himself with the responsibilities of a flyhalf, his understanding of the position and the game continues to develop.

“I didn’t really know what to work on because my understanding of the game continues to grow,” he told reporters at Wallabies camp on Tuesday.

“What I broke down last year was my kicking. That was a focus and what came from learning how to kick, not just kick out of hand or off the tee, but picking my moments in the flow of the game and when to put an attacking kick in, spotting the space, when they've brought 13 into the line and there’s space in the line or out wide for a cross field kick.

“That was the big development of my game and also knowing when to flatten up, play deep and move my troops around the field so I’m getting the most out of my attacking threats.”

Air Jordan in the clutch

This was enhanced when he took over as captain in place of the injured Liam Wright in 2021, allowing him to recognise the importance of taking a team-first attitude.

“Throughout my career, I’ve always been very individual,” he added.

“I think part of my growth moving to ten was learning how to serve the team before myself and the captaincy took that to another level.

“It’s not just on the field, there’s a lot of stuff off the field and making sure that all the moving parts are coming together correctly.

"Utilising the other leaders in the team who are also natural leaders and can bring out the best in the different groups, nationalities and units. Having a forward speak to a forward, I don’t know the exact role and how to get them up.”

O'Connor entered the Wallabies camp battered and bruised following the Reds' narrow win over the Brumbies.

He found himself the target of the Brumbies forwards, particularly Darcy Swain, hit on a number of occasions.

Whilst it left a mark, O'Connor wouldn't want it any other way.

“I love it, that’s what I want my men to be doing,” he said. “When we come up against the Kiwis or come together as a national team, you want pressure on their quarterback.

“We saw in that first Test Harry Wilson and those guys get into Mo’unga and that’s perfect.

“When they are coming at me, I’m enjoying it because it’s a challenge for me. Your aggression isn’t going to stop me from playing at the line. If anything, I’m going to take that personally and try and run flatter.”

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