Patrick McKendry 's Opinion

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: Start lets O'Connor flaunt his defensive skills

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Brendon O'Connor. Photo / Getty Images
Brendon O'Connor. Photo / Getty Images

These are rare and precious times for Brendon O'Connor.

Denied the chance to press his case for a starting position at the Blues because of the presence and form of Luke Braid, O'Connor is about to get his second start in a fortnight because of the skipper's shoulder injury.

The last time that happened was this time last year when he started consecutive weeks against the Rebels and Brumbies. The 24-year-old, a member of the New Zealand under-20 world championship team, has had his progress blocked first at the Crusaders, where he found himself up against Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Matt Todd and George Whitelock, and at the Blues, where Braid, Jerome Kaino, Steven Luatua and Peter Saili are also in the mix.

It's a difficult place to be for a young man keen to make a name for himself, but O'Connor went the right way about it last weekend against the Reds at Eden Park when, determined to make life difficult for Quade Cooper, he all but tackled the first-five out of the game.

With 20 tackles - and no misses - plus two turnovers, O'Connor well and truly led the defensive line and was acknowledged by his teammates afterwards with a man of the match award.

Lock Patrick Tuipulotu was next best with 13 tackles for the Blues.

"We talked about our transition defence and getting up and shutting down Cooper and bringing line speed and I just tried to lead the line and put some real heat on there," he said.

"It's a bit frustrating sitting week in and week out on the bench. I just have to take my chances when they come but I was pretty happy with the way I played last week and luckily enough I have another chance and I've got to make the most of that.

"It was my first 80 minutes for the year so it was pretty tough in that regard but I think you just have to plan every week as if you're starting so if you happen to be in there last minute you can do your role and do it confidently. It is hard to get a rhythm when you haven't been playing week in, week out, but you just have to take your chances."

O'Connor played only twice for the Crusaders, both off the reserves bench, despite being on the Christchurch scene for a couple of years.

He said he had no desire to further his career overseas, saying he was prepared to fight it out in New Zealand, and his profile will receive a big boost if he shines against the Chiefs' loose forward trio of Sam Cane, Tanerau Latimer and Liam Messam in New Plymouth tonight.

"If you watch them they go well at the breakdown and thrive from there. We've just got to do a similar job to what we did last week which is bring our defensive line up and be really physical and bring that attitude.

"It's good that we've won two in a row now, it's momentum. Winning becomes a habit.

"The more you win, the more belief you have got. The belief is certainly there now and we've got a lot of confidence."

Playing alongside Kaino and Saili - with Luatua in reserve - should give O'Connor every chance to press his case.

"They bring a really physical game. If we can bring a really physical attitude that frees me up a bit more to really attack that ball."

- NZ Herald

Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby writer Patrick McKendry began his journalism career 20 years ago and has worked in newspapers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. He worked in a communications role on his return here before joining APN before the 2011 World Cup.

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