Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Audition for Lions role found lacking

James O'Connor was found wanting against the Blues. Photo / Getty Images
James O'Connor was found wanting against the Blues. Photo / Getty Images

As an audition for the Wallaby first five-eighths role in the Lions series, James O'Connor needed to deliver a great deal more.

He would have noted respected Springbok centre Jean de Villiers suggest this week that a Will Genia-Quade Cooper pairing was probably the hottest combo to make the cut for the June series.

What may have hurt even more was de Villiers' next choice, Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano.

If so, O'Connor did not seem to offer any great response last night at Eden Park other than a series of grimaces when he hurt his sternum in several robust collisions.

O'Connor may have been lonely without the support act of his alcohol amigo Kurtley Beale and he gave the appearance of someone who would rather be anywhere else.

Certainly when the Blues rampaged towards him as they did for much of the 23 minutes he was on the field, O'Connor stood his ground. But if his defence is supposed to give him an edge ahead of Cooper it was not clearly apparent.

He was pushed off twice by Frank Halai for his opening two tries as he worked towards a defensive role on the flanks.

Even trying to run the ball back from deep backfired as Blues loosehead prop Tim Perry grabbed him in open play.

Not long after there was more punishment. O'Connor damaged his chest and neck in a collision but after a lengthy physio exam, lined up again in the defensive line.

He wished he hadn't. Almost immediately the Blues broke and Rene Ranger in the clear with a man outside him, could not resist using O'Connor as roadkill.

The outcome was obvious before O'Connor grabbed a breath and left the arena. He'd had enough.

Now it is up to the Wallaby selectors to decide if they have seen enough to remove O'Connor from any five-eighths plans.

He is talented but perhaps better suited away from the traffic where his vision can be used better.

Even his goalkicking took a hit last night as he scuffed, hooked and sliced his three attempts.

O'Connor has great balance, speed and confidence. He can create problems for a large but less agile Lions backline.

He may want to play first-five but coach Robbie Deans needs to convince him he can help the Wallabies more and be even more potent wider out in the backline.

- Herald on Sunday

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