Robbie Deans has granted Australia a licence to thrill in Wednesday night’s Olympic centenary clash with the Barbarians at Wembley Stadium – and wonderkid James O’Connor is only too happy to oblige.
Darren Walton writes on FoxSports that three weeks after O’Connor became the second-youngest Wallaby ever to play a Test, Deans on Tuesday named the 18-year-old to start at full-back against the star-studded Barbarians.
“He’s a huge individual talent,” Deans said.
“I guess the purpose for getting him underway is to add to that the team skills, the ability to work with and off others, because talent gets you here but it doesn’t take you any further.
“As an individual, you’ve got to learn those team skills.”
With the Wallabies ravaged by injury after a gruelling schedule of five Tests in five weeks, Deans has handed several other rising stars an opportunity to shine, as well as giving the squad’s third-string half-back Brett Sheehan his first start of the tour.
With Stirling Mortlock concussed against Wales on Saturday, John Eales Medallist George Smith will captain the side in the historic match, which commemorates 100 years since Australia won the rugby gold medal at the 1908 London Olympics.
Such has been the influx of fresh new talent under Deans – and high attrition rate – during Australia’s 14-Test season that Smith and winger Lote Tuqiri are the only two survivors from the Wallabies starting side from their opening international of the year against Ireland in Melbourne in June.
Deans said the Wallabies had a free rein to play as they please.
“They’ve always got that when they’re out there,” he said.
“But they’re all well-versed in our game. I won’t be limiting them in any way.”
After a month honing his brilliant running game with the Wallabies, O’Connor said such tactics suited him just fine.
“I’ve been given an awesome opportunity and I can’t wait to get out there and have a go,” said the Western Force utility.
“I’ll play whatever’s in front of me and give it a really good shot.
“There definitely should be some exciting football.
“I’m pretty confident now. I’ve been training at full-back and in the Italy game I got a bit of time there.
“I’ve learnt so much. It’s been good and I can’t wait to just show what I’ve got out there.”
Deans has been impressed by O’Connor’s confidence on his first Wallabies tour.
“He would say his selection was five games too late. It’s great,” Deans said.
“He’s started to bring a bit of voice and giving a bit back in terms of chipping, which is good.”
Former Wallabies captain George Gregan has been named on the bench in a World XV-strength Barbarians line-up.
There is a strong South African flavour to the side with John Smit captain of the Jake White-coached outfit which also features fellow World Cup-winning Springboks Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez, Schalk Burger and Bakkies Botha.
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw will make his first appearance for the Ba Bas, alongside current and former All Blacks teammates Joe Rokocoko, Rico Gear and Jerry Collins.
Wallabies: James O’Connor, Lote Tuqiri, Ryan Cross, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Brett Sheehan, Richard Brown, George Smith (capt), Dean Mumm, Hugh McMeniman, Mark Chisholm, Matt Dunning, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sekope Kepu.
Reserves: Adam Freier, Ben Alexander, Peter Kimlin, David Pocock, Luke Burgess, Lachie Turner, Drew Mitchell.
Barbarians: Percy Montgomery, Joe Rokocoko, Rico Gear, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Francois Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Richie McCaw, Schalk Berger, Jerry Collins, Johann Muller, Bakkies Botha, Cencus Johnson, John Smit (capt), Federico Pucciarello.
Reserves: Mark Regan, Rodney Blake, Chris Jack, Nick Koster, George Gregan, Ollie Smith, Shane Williams.