James O’Connor became the youngest player in the history of Super 14 rugby when he made his debut off the bench for the Western Force in their loss to the Reds on Friday.
Rugby 365 reports that the youngster was called upon to replace the injured Tamaiti Horua late in the game, and the new landmark was set as O’Connor, aged 17 years and 287 days, took the field.
O’Connor’s record is quite an interesting case however, and there seems to be a difference in opinion between the International Rugby Board (IRB) and SANZAR, the organisers of the Super 14, about the lower age limits of players.
The prodigious O’Connor has been ruled out of playing against players roughly his own age, after the IRB decided he was too young to compete at the World Under-20 Championships in Wales in June.
Yet the Western Force feel that he is good enough and old enough to play in arguably the toughest arena outside of Test rugby in the Super 14, against hardened professionals, many of whom are merciless internationals much older than O’Connor.
The youngster’s achievement also brings up the case of David Pocock, who was selected to play for the Western Force shortly after the birth of the franchise in 2006.
Pocock, who watched O’Connor join his team on the field on Friday, was also 17 years of age then, but he was prevented from actually playing for the Force until he was 18 years old. This coincided with the final round-robin match of the 2006 Super 14, against the Sharks, and it was in this match that Pocock made his debut.
South African Rugby Union (SARU) General Manager of media and policy, Christo Ferreira, said that no ruling in terms of a minimum age currently applies in the Super 14.
Any player could thus be picked to play for a Super 14 franchise, regardless of his age.
It does seem quite unlikely though that O’Connor’s mark will be broken soon, considering the physical demands of the competition.Tweet