Rugby: O'Connor thrust into pivot role for Barbarians clash

James O'Connor runs with the ball during the Australia training session. Photo / Getty Images
James O'Connor runs with the ball during the Australia training session. Photo / Getty Images

He has the looks of a choir boy and Wallabies five-eighth James O'Connor has been urged to find his voice in time for Saturday's clash against the Barbarians at Twickenham.

The 21-year-old has been thrust into the playmaking position for the first time at international level in Quade Cooper's injury-enforced absence.

And the transition from the wing to directing the national team's backline has been messing a little with his mind.

"He has worked at it this week and last week and his head has been spinning on occasions," Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said.

"It is very different to playing on the end of the chain.

"When you are playing at ten, there a lot of people relying on you."

O'Connor played five-eighth for the Western Force this season but has been primarily used as an outside back in the professional ranks to utilise his blistering pace.

He has also played on the wing or at fullback to protect his young body against hardened midfield campaigners.

Deans felt the 36-Test player was getting used to dishing out orders for the Wallabies instead of being on the receiving end.

"When you are not accustomed to filling the airwaves with directions, it is not a habit that happens automatically," Deans said.

"He is not afraid of talking, it is just about getting into that habit and realising that people are waiting for you to talk."

O'Connor's best long-term position is viewed at inside centre and his shift to No.10 for this weekend has partly come out of necessity.

Deans said the move caused minimal disruption for the backline for the opening game of the two-match tour of Britain.

However when asked whether O'Connor could be a genuine threat to Cooper's hold on the No.10 jumper, Deans said: "Who knows what is going to happen in the future?."

"It is another player that can play in the front line and he obviously is very capable and that is a good thing for us."

Acting Wallabies captain and former Western Force teammate David Pocock was impressed by O'Connor's adjustment before taking on a vastly experienced Barbarians side led by Springboks great Victor Matfield.

"It took him a little while to get used to it (at the Force) and dictate the direction of the game, hopefully that will help him out," he said.

"He has improved out of sight just in the last two weeks of preparation."

The match provides one last chance for Deans to pit his wits against compatriot and World Cup winning coach Graham Henry following New Zealand's 20-6 semi-final win over Australia last month.

"Graham, regardless of what happens on the weekend, he has finished his career in the style he would have liked," Deans said.

"He has found eternal peace, so he is one of the lucky few to that end."

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


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