JAMES O’Connor is happy to be the target of extra attention from the British and Irish Lions if that means wearing the No 10 jersey for Australia.
O’Connor is the likely Wallabies stand-off, despite having played only one of his 37 tests in the key position, with Quade Cooper seemingly out of favour and Kurtley Beale still working through alcohol-related off-field issues.
The Lions backline in the three-Test series could include some heavyweight midfielders and wingers and, of course there’ll be forwards charging at O’Connor from the fringes of rucks and mauls. But he says he’s prepared for anything.
“When you do put that 10 jersey on – if I do get the opportunity – you are always targeted there. It’s the closest channel off the scrum,” he said during the Wallabies camp in Sydney yesterday. “It’s no different to some of the big Kiwi boys, or even some of the guys we’ve got running around Australia.”
O’Connor made his Test debut as a replacement against Italy in 2008 and will still be 22 when the first Test between Australia and the Lions kicks off in Brisbane on 22 June. He’ll turn 23 the day before the third Test in Sydney on 6 July.
O’Connor has played mainly at full-back and on the wing for Australia, but has spent time at centre and played his last Test at stand-off, kicking a penalty and three conversions in a 24-18 win over Wales at Cardiff in December 2011, before injuries ruled him out of the 2012 international season.
“If I get the opportunity to play 10, it’s going to be massive,” O’Connor said. “It’s a huge opportunity as well as very humbling. “Looking at the structures and the game plan, it fits my game quite well. I think I’ll be able to serve our team.”
Cooper also spent time on the sidelines with injuries last year, then was fined when he rejoined the Wallabies squad after complaining publicly about the “toxic” environment in the training set-up.
Cooper narrowly won a Super Rugby duel with O’Connor last weekend, guiding the Queensland Reds to a comeback win over the Melbourne Rebels, despite two glaring errors in his kicking game that resulted in charge-down tries for the visitors.