Rugby: Deans looks to O'Connor to step up on British tour

By Adrian Warren

James O'Connor. Photo / Brett Phibbs
James O'Connor. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is set to move gifted young utility James O'Connor closer to the action on the two-match rugby tour to Britain.

The squad of 26 named yesterday included three uncapped players: NSW backrower Dave Dennis and Queensland backs Ben Tapuai and Ben Lucas.

Recalled prop Pek Cowan was the only other player chosen from outside the Rugby World Cup squad for the tour, which comprises a clash with the Barbarians at Twickenham on November 26 and a test against Wales at Millennium Stadium on December 3.

Many World Cup players were unavailable because of injury: Kurtley Beale (hamstring), Drew Mitchell (hamstring), Pat McCabe (shoulder), Quade Cooper (knee), Wycliff Palu (hamstring), Rocky Elsom (hamstring), Dan Vickerman (shoulder), Sekope Kepu (eye).

With Cooper and McCabe among the absentees, Deans indicated O'Connor, who has played on the wing for Australia in recent times, could be moved to first or second five-eighths.

"We've got an opportunity here," Deans said. "When you are looking at the players that we are taking, it's very likely he will get the opportunity to step up and accept some of the greater responsibility that comes directing the game."

Asked if that meant O'Connor would spend time at number 10 or 12 Deans said: "Both are possibilities".

"He's got so little background in both but he's clearly able in both."

Given the short tour, Deans stressed there wasn't a great deal of scope for experimentation.

He was not worried that the Wallabies could struggle for motivation after coming third in the World Cup. "I think they are very keen. Sure they are disappointed at their finishing position at the World Cup, but they are also very excited about the possibilities for them in the near future."

Australia squad: Ben Alexander, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Pekahou Cowan, Dave Dennis, Anthony Faingaa, Will Genia, Scott Higginbotham, Matt Hodgson, Rob Horne, James Horwill (c), Digby Ioane, Ben Lucas, Salesi Ma'afu, Ben McCalman, Stephen Moore, James O'Connor, Nick Phipps, David Pocock, Tatafu Polota Nau, Radike Samo, Nathan Sharpe, Rob Simmons, James Slipper, Ben Tapuai, Lachie Turner.

- AAP

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