O’Connor relinquishes Reds captaincy

Murray Wenzel |

James O’Connor’s flirtation with captaincy is over after the Queensland Reds’ title-winning playmaker opted against returning to the role this year.

Instead livewire half Tate McDermott has been promoted to partner Liam Wright as co-captain for the new Super Rugby Pacific season beginning next month.

Wright’s long-term ankle injury on the eve of last season saw O’Connor parachuted into the captaincy and flourish, the former rugby bad boy relishing the task as the Reds swept to the domestic title.

With England due to tour and the 2023 World Cup on the horizon, O’Connor opted to shed those extra duties though, the No.10 keen to re-establish himself on the international stage after Quade Cooper’s fine Test resurgence while he was injured last season.

O’Connor will remain a vital cog in the Reds’ strategy room but has relinquished the official leadership duties to his emerging halves partner, who at 23 has played 15 Tests and shown his potential to be a long-term Wallaby.

“It’s important to recognise the job James O’Connor did last year,” Reds coach Brad Thorn said. 

“He was both the captain and one of our on-field drivers which was a big commitment and responsibility.

“There are more leaders within our team, plus players with emerging leadership qualities too which is great for the future growth of our program.”

Captaincy could strengthen McDermott’s case for a starting role at Test level, the potent ball-runner jostling for game-time with NSW Waratahs leader Jake Gordon and Brumbies and Wallabies first-choice No.9 Nic White.

“To be etched into the fabric of Queensland Rugby, in company with many former great captains of the game, is something my family and I will forever treasure,” said McDermott. 

“Upon reflection of my initial chat with Thorny, our job now turns to unleashing the untapped potential within our side,.

“We are fortunate to have a core group of experienced players around us who have tremendous skin in the game, and whom we will rely upon heavily to continue with the team-first approach we took into our 2021 Super Rugby AU title-winning campaign.”