From retirement thoughts to centurion: James O’Connor reflects on milestone

Tue, 01/06/2021, 06:30 am
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
James O'Connor reflects on 100 Super Rugby games. Photo Credit: Brendan Hertel/QRU

James O'Connor's journey to 100 Super Rugby games has been anything from ordinary.

From bursting onto the scene as a 17-year-old to returning to Australia on his last chance, O'Connor has pretty much experienced all the highs and lows that professional sport has to offer.

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As he prepares to bring up three figures against the Blues on Saturday, O'Connor was relishing the chance to play in front of his home crowd once again.

“It’s very special to be able to do it at home crowd at Suncorp. It’s the icing on the cake,” he said.

The 30-year-old will have the special opportunity to play both his first and 100th game in front of friends and family, albeit in different colours.

Bursting onto the scene in 2010, O'Connor recalls the brutal welcome he got to Super Rugby as a teenage sensation for the Western Force.

“I was 17, just hit puberty (when I played my first). It was actually against the Reds with the Force,” he said. “I remember coming on with 20 minutes to go and made about four errors. I tried to forget that.

“My second game against the Hurricanes in Wellington, I think my first carry the lineout play was to take it to the line...I didn’t get to the line, by the time I had the ball Ma’a Nonu smoked me.

“I think I remember watching that over and the commentators were saying ‘welcome to Super Rugby kid’. Two great starts.”

Isaac Henry goes over after a great pill from Tate McDermott.

After a turbulent career, the Wallaby concedes the thoughts of playing 100 games was far from his mind when he returned for the second time in 2019 as he searched for any club to take him.

Now he has become a senior member of the Reds, O'Connor is embracing the attitude and energy of the youthful group.

“For a big part of my career, I didn’t think I could make it back home to Australia and I made it pretty open that I’d give it one last shot," he admitted.

"The thought of retirement definitely played on my mind.

“I put my head down and got to work and I’m back here enjoying the fruits of my labour and being around this group.

"There’s a lot of great energy. I really enjoy the way the coaches work and my role in this team. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”

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The Reds skipper admits their performances throughout Super Rugby Trans-Tasman has been under-par.

However, he was optimistic they could mark the occasion with a win against the Blues after a return of 'Reds Rugby' during last week's win over the Chiefs.

“They’re on the top of the table and have played well in both of the Aotearoa comps and Super Rugby Trans-Tasman. They are a very physical and exciting team and for us it’s going to be another great challenge,” he said on the Blues.

“… I felt we really started to feel our flow against the Chiefs. It’s a different dynamic the way the Kiwis play and it’d probably took us a bit longer to adapt.

“We’re playing our Reds style of rugby and we’re getting pushed to the next level which is what you want. You want to be constantly challenged and that’s why you play footy for that contest. For us, this weekend it’s another step up.”

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