O’Connor pitch for ‘Reds-heavy’ Wallabies as Lions loom

Murray Wenzel |

James O’Connor has talked up the international credentials of his young Reds teammates.
James O’Connor has talked up the international credentials of his young Reds teammates.

James O’Connor has called for a “Reds-heavy” Wallabies squad and new national coach Joe Schmidt to pick and stick ahead of next year’s British and Irish Lions visit.

The injured playmaker is yet to feature this season but it hasn’t slowed the Queensland Reds, who sit second thanks to three wins and a golden point loss to the unbeaten Hurricanes.

O’Connor (hamstring) is nearing a return but unlikely to feature against the Western Force in Perth on Saturday.

Instead he’s leant into his mentoring of young five-eighths Tom Lynagh and Harry McLaughlin-Phillips.

“It’s a big part of my role, that senior voice in the team,” O’Connor said. 

“I’ve been driving this group from the front for a long time and it’s something Les (Kiss) and the other coaches, they’ve been asking me a lot of questions.

“I feel very seen and I really enjoy helping.”

The Reds have comfortably beaten the NSW Waratahs and Melbourne Rebels while also holding off the Chiefs, scoring wonderful tries and digging in on defence.

“The biggest thing this year is you can see we’re playing together, as a team,” O’Connor said.

“We’ve built on our base game and the little moments, we’re winning. Everyone’s on the same page.

“There’s alot of guys in our pack that’ll be putting their hands up; I would like to see a Reds-heavy Wallaby team.

“Continue to play consistently and showcase what our unique players can do, it’ll make a great case for us.”

The versatile 33-year-old, who played against the Lions when they last visited in 2013, said Schmidt had the chance to thwart the giants with patience at the selection table in a busy Test year.

“It was a very special occasion and one I’d love to be a part of again,” O’Connor reflected.

“It’ll be important to select a team and build combinations that can set us apart from them.

The Wallabies will play nine Tests between July and September before their end-of-year tour of Europe.

“Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales are all formidable Test nations but when we come together we’ve a team strong enough to beat them,” O’Connor said.

“We’re seeing an improvement at Super level and that’s where our mindset is at the moment.”

The Lions will play three Tests against the Wallabies as well as five games against Australia’s Super Rugby Pacific outfits in June-August next year.

AAP