The tough question had to be put to Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby team loosie Brendon O'Connor.

After four years away from the side playing for the Leicester Tigers in the English Premiership is he still capable of being the force he was for the Magpies from 2013 to 2015?

"Definitely. I just have to get used to the style of play again. It's a bit different to the UK where it's a bit more set piece orientated and a bit slower," O'Connor replied.

He had 25 minutes off the subs bench in last week's 35-19 pre-season win against Waikato in Taupo and will aim for more when he starts at openside flanker in the Magpies final pre-season match against Auckland in Cambridge today.


"We've got some good players. It's just a matter of getting us all on the same page so we can perform consistently week in and week out and out and win some trophies."

Former Blues and Crusaders player O'Connor, 29, was a regular trophy winner during his last stint in the Bay which saw him score 16 tries in 34 first class games.

He was a key member of the Mike Coman-captained Magpies who took the Ranfurly Shield off Otago in 2013 and gave an inspirational two-try performance when he led the Magpies to another taste of Shield glory in the 2014 challenge against Counties-Manukau.

Under O'Connor's leadership, the Magpies retained the Shield in 10 defences before losing it to a Waikato side for which current Magpies halfback Brad Weber scored a hat-trick for.

In his final outing before heading to the Northern Hemisphere, O'Connor captained the Magpies to a thrilling 26-25 win against Wellington in the 2015 Mitre 10 Cup Championship final.

"Obviously the squad has changed a bit since the last time I was here. But it's looking good with some good young exciting players who are keen to get out there and play," O'Connor said.

Last week's Taupo encounter was O'Connor's first since the last of his 73 games for the Tigers on May 18.

"We're just bringing him back in slowly and will look to extend his minutes in a starting role this week. Against Waikato he was effective in the tackle and in the jackal space which is his specialty." Magpies head coach Mark Ozich said.


O'Connor is particularly impressed with the youngsters in the Magpies backline.

"It is a quite young squad especially in the backs. Those young boys have some skills and I'm excited to be back playing with them," added the Gisborne Boys' High School old boy who was a member of the world championship-winning 2009 New Zealand under-20 team.

Ozich said Hurricanes loosie Gareth Evans was hungry for work and will share the co-captaincy duties with O'Connor and Maori All Blacks captain and hooker Ash Dixon who will be used off the pine.

"All of the younger guys who were in their first year out of school last year are a bit more confident in this space. A lot of the older guys who are coming back from Super Rugby have remarked they don't need to show them too much and can just focus on their jobs which is a good sign," Ozich said.

The Hurricanes pair of outside back Jonah Lowe and prop Ben May are both on the injured list which also includes Chiefs lock Michael Allardice, Highlanders loosie Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Hastings Rugby and Sports captain and prop Jason Long and Napier Old Boys Marist loosie Hannon Brighouse.

Maori All Blacks and Hurricanes lock Isaia Walker-Leawere is being rested.

Two former Magpies, Maori All Blacks and Blues halfback Jonathan Ruru, and former Blues and Hurricanes first five-eighth Daniel Kirkpatrick, will both play for Auckland today.

The Magpies Mitre 10 Cup squad will be announced on Monday night and their first Championship match is against Manawatu in Palmerston North on August 11.

The full Magpies team for today is:
Caleb Makene, Ollie Sapsford, Neria Fomai, Danny Toala, Mason Emerson, Lincoln McClutchie, Folau Fakatava, Gareth Evans (co-captain), Brendon O'Connor (co-captain), Josh Kaifa, Elijah Martin, Geoff Cridge, Namatahi Waa, Kianu Kereru-Symes, Tim Farrell. Substitutes - Forwards: Pouri Rakete-Stones, Joel Hintz, Josiah Tavita-Metcalfe, Jacob Devery, Ash Dixon (co-captain), Tom Parsons, Solomone Funaki, Devan Flanders. Backs: Zac Donaldson, Tyrone Dodd-Edwards, Timo Vaiusu, Saia Paese, Sam McNicol, Stacey Ili.