Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie says that fly-half James O’Connor has earned the right to start this weekend against Argentina in San Juan.
O’Connor has not featured prominently in the Wallabies jumper this season, having spent time behind Quade Cooper and Noah Lolesio. However, he gets his chance with the former ruled out with a ruptured Achilles.
A World Cup prospect
Rennie sees O’Connor showing his worth all the way until next year’s Rugby World Cup whilst also commending his attitude whilst being out of favour.
“We have talked about him having to sharpen up; he has been doing that over the past month,” Rennie told the Sydney Morning Herald. “When we talk about sharp, it is to do with acceleration and sharpening up his skill sets. Attitude wise, he has been brilliant, and he couldn’t have been more supportive.
“He has earned the right to play this weekend and our thinking is he will go through to the World Cup. But time will tell. He is keen to get out there and prove he has plenty more footy in him.”
Rennie admitted Lolesio is upset with not starting after he filled in adequately for Cooper during the England series. However, the coach underlined some areas of development for the young fly-half.
“He [Lolesio] is disappointed,” Rennie said. “We have communicated well in areas we want him to be better.
“He was disappointed with the third Test. But he is a good kid, he is going to be an excellent international 10. So, he is definitely working hard on his game.
“We talked about connection. It is actually a strength of his game normally at the Brumbies, but it probably wasn’t as sharp [in the third Test] and he got deeper and deeper as the game went on, to buy himself some time. He is a player who doesn’t have the leg speed of Beauden Barrett, so he needs to be able to play flat, but still get himself in position to run, kick, pass.
“They’re the areas we want him to be better in. He has played over a dozen Tests now and they’re all against top teams – a number against the All Blacks, the French, the English, South Africa type of things – so he has played big games and will be better for that.”
The 58-year-old admits there are depth concerns at fly-half, but the goal is to “accelerate” the development of young players.
“We have some good young kids coming through, but not ready for this level yet,” Rennie said. “When we get home we have South Africa and the All Blacks, two of the best sides in the world. So it certainly is an area of focus, to accelerate the development of our young 10s.”
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