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Rennie backs experienced O'Connor in Wallabies return

Fri, 12/08/2022, 2:41 am
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie spoke to media after announcing his side to play Argentina in San Juan.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has thrown his support behind James O'Connor, confident he has the potential to take the side to the 2023 World Cup.

O'Connor won the race to the vacant flyhalf position, selected to start for the second Test against Argentina in San Juan following Quade Cooper's season-ending Achilles injury.

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Rennie admits the 32-year-old's experience and improved 'sharpness' were vital factors in the decision, with Allan Alaalatoa and Michael Hooper both heading home due to personal reasons.

“We’ve talked about how he needed to sharpen up and he’s done that over the past month. Obviously with Quade gone, no Hoops (Michael Hooper) or Allan (Alaalatoa), we’re keen to get some experience out there as well,” Rennie told reporters.

“He’s an important voice in and amongst that backline and has prepared very well. He’s really excited to get a crack and make the most of it.

“We talked about sharpness, particularly around acceleration and sharpening his skill set. Attitude-wise, he’s been brilliant, he couldn’t be more supportive and it’s disappointing when players miss out but he’s consistently had a clear picture of what he needed to do and supportive of everyone else and helping them prepare.

“It’s great that he gets an opportunity on Saturday (Sunday AEST).”

O'Connor held out Brumbies playmaker Noah Lolesio for the position, despite Lolesio starting in all three games against England.

Rennie pointed to the final Test defeat in Sydney as key towards the 22-year-old's development, looking for Lolesio to improve his connection and depth as a playmaker.

“He’s disappointed but we’ve communicated that well and the areas we want him to be better,” Rennie explained.

“He was disappointed with the third Test but he’s a good kid and I reckon he’ll be a great international ten. He’s definitely working hard to grow his game.

“We’ve talked about connection. It’s actually a strength of his at the Brumbies but probably wasn’t as sharp and he got deeper and deeper as the game got on to buy himself some time. He’s the type of player who probably doesn’t have the leg speed of a Beauden Barrett so he needs to play flat but still get himself in a position where he can run, kick, pass.

“They’re areas that we want him to get better at but he’s played a dozen Tests now and they’re all against top teams, a number against the All Blacks, French, English, Springboks and those types of teams. He’s played big games and he’ll be better for it.”

Flyhalf remains the position most of concern for Rennie heading forward, with Cooper set to spend the majority of the build for the 2023 World Cup on the sidelines.

O'Connor's own injury struggles has seen him miss significant time over the past two years whilst Lolesio continues his rapid development.

The Argentina Test proves the perfect opportunity for the Reds playmaker to make his claim according to Rennie, confident his body will hold up for the hallmark event in France.

“(Injuries) are a concern but he’s earned the right to play this weekend and our thinking is he’ll go through to a World Cup but tile will tell,” Rennie believes.

“He’s keen to prove he’s got plenty of footy in him.”

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