JAMES O’Connor had plenty of what he calls ”reflection time” last year.
The prodigiously talented 22-year-old sat out much of the year because of a lacerated liver that ruined his Super Rugby season with the Melbourne Rebels. Then a hamstring injury kept him from the Wallabies Tests.
O’Connor said it was during this time that he took stock on what he wanted from his career.
His off-field image has not always lived up to on-field accomplishments, shown by his one-game Wallabies suspension for failing to attend the official World Cup squad announcement and team photograph in 2011.
But he said he was confident he was now ready for the leadership role he has been given against New South Wales on Friday night.
O’Connor was this week named as Rebels captain for the round-three clash, replacing Gareth Delve, who has been rested because of a shoulder injury.
”I definitely think it goes back to having pretty much a year off; I have matured as a player [and] as a person as well,” O’Connor said.
”I really had to take a step back and think about what I wanted out of my rugby and how I thought I could [help] myself and my team into a better position and into the finals. I’ve had a lot of reflection time and one thing I did pick up from that injury is that I want to be playing rugby.
”It’s not as if I’ve done anything bad or illegal or anything, it’s just little errors that I have made.
”I’m a pretty balanced person and I guess some of the way I’ve been reflected, I don’t think it is a true [reflection] of my personality. But in saying that, I think it’s an easy [cop out] to say, ‘Yeah, I’ve grown as a person, I’ve matured a lot’. To be honest, I’ve just put my rugby first.
”I might just be the captain for one week but… I’m loving the opportunity. It’s such an honour to be given this. I have really striven for this.”
O’Connor, who is off-contract this season, has made no secret of his desire to have a greater leadership role within the team, saying he enjoyed the additional pressure it brought. ”I like big-game moments, the more pressure on me … the more that I make myself perform,” he said.
Rebels coach Damien Hill did not name a vice-captain at the start of this season and Delve on Wednesday said the Waratahs game would be O’Connor’s chance to show he was suitable for the role.
”He’s tactically very good, he’s played the game for a long time despite his young years and he’s played at the highest level, so we believe he’s got the composure and the ability to read the game well and make good decisions for this weekend,” Delve said.
”He’s got the respect of the lads through his achievements. It is a big chance for him.”
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