James O’Connor has signed a two-and-a-half-year deal with the Queensland Reds and Rugby Australia it has been confirmed.
The move has been in the pipeline for quite some time now and with it being announced O’Connor can now officially play for the Wallabies if selected.
Having last turned out for the Aussies in 2013 before off-field issues halted his international career, O’Connor is happy to be given the chance to impress once more.
“I just want to say how grateful I am to be given this opportunity again. There’s been a lot of work put in behind the scenes and a lot of guys have shown faith in me, so all I’m focusing on right now is putting my best foot forward. I have a bigger ‘why’ now and that is what fuels me. In saying that, I’m excited to be back here. Even at 29, I’m still learning and we’re really pushing each other. It’s been an intense hit the last few weeks, but I think I’m in a lot better place physically,” he said.
O’Connor has come back with a hope of breaking into the World Cup squad and did so in 2015 as well, failing on that occasion but he is determined to prove himself this time around.
“I’m a Queenslander. I was born there. I started playing rugby there. It’s where the dream began. A big part as well is that I owe Queensland the best version of myself. I came back last time and I wasn’t in the best place mentally, but also physically I was quite broken, so I couldn’t produce and perform the rugby I wanted to for the team. I’m finally ready to return and make amends. I want to do right by the team and the fans, and I intend to deliver the very best of my energy. If I can help the team get back to the top of the sport and if we can bring success back to Queensland, that would be a dream for me. The last time I returned, I thought I was ready to repair some of the mistakes I made but also reach my rugby potential, but it was too rushed. I didn’t recognise how much pain I was still in mentally. In saying that, I wouldn’t change it because I was guided to the correct mentors,” he added.
The utility back believes that the journey he has been on over the past number of years has helped him in the long-run and has motivated others to fight their personal battles.
“I’ve been on a journey ever since to understanding my true self and how I’m meant to use my privileged position in rugby. I see now that rugby is a gift and I want my journey back to inspire possibly other young men out there who may be a little lost in the world right now. If I can make it back from adversity, then so can you,” he continued.
He closed off by saying how he thinks that inside-centre is his best position, however he will play wherever he is needed for the team.
“I think 12 is my position. I’ve been playing there the last two years and I’m most comfortable there. It’s best with the style of rugby I play and the way I have developed being overseas. Also, I’m now a bit of a nugget so I fit in there quite nicely. But of course, I will cover anywhere in the backline – whatever the team needs. It would simply just be an honour to put the shirt back on again. I would play prop if I had to,” he finished.
Rugby Australia’s director of rugby Scott Johnson is impressed by O’Connor and believes this is a great move for all parties involved.
“James has immense rugby talent. He started his career in Queensland and this is a chance for him to show his full potential for his home state. Now is the time for James’ rugby to do the talking. He’s come home for the right reasons to play rugby and to help develop our rugby programmes. He’s matured and understands the leadership roles both on-and-off the field. He’s been honest and transparent throughout this whole process. We want to back the man to be the player we know he can be,” he said.
During his time overseas O’Connor turned out for London Irish, Toulon and Sale Sharks, which show how experienced he has become. His versatility and knowledge could be a huge boost for Michael Chieka and are a couple of reasons why he may very well succeed in getting into the squad that he failed to break into four years ago.
Boks win but come up short in title chase in Durban
The Springboks finished the Castle Lager Rugby Championship like they started it, with a win – this time by 38-21 (halftime 17-7) over Argentina – but they failed to score the points needed to dethrone New Zealand as champions of the Southern Hemisphere, in front of a packed house of 45982 people at Hollywoodbets Kings Park in Durban.
After the All Blacks beat the Wallabies by 40-14 in Auckland on Saturday morning, the Boks had to win with a bonus point and a points’ difference of at least 39, and they failed on both accounts, but still finished the competition with four wins from six games, the same as New Zealand.
The Boks dominated the first half and built up a well-deserved 17-7 lead but Argentina never allowed the home side to run away with proceedings and managed to stay in the fight throughout, although their discipline got the better of them as illustrated by the four yellow cards dished out to the visitors for an assortment of transgressions, while the Boks had two men sent to the sin bin in a stop-start affair that was played in tricky conditions.
Experienced lock Eben Etzebeth thought he had scored when he went over in the 10th minute, however, he received the ball from an offside position in the maul and the try was ruled out.
Not long thereafter, Pumas flank Marcos Kremer was yellow carded for offside play with the Boks on the attack. The green and gold jerseys finally got onto the scoreboard through hard-working No 8 Jasper Wiese, who had the simple task to dot the ball down from a powerful Bok scrum.
Steyn’s conversion handed the home side a well-deserved 7-0 lead at the halfway mark of the opening half. With the Boks making Argentina sweat on defence and piling on the pressure upfront, Juan Martin Gonzalez was also sent to the sin bin for repeated offsides, while Willie le Roux was held up on the whitewash in the next movement.
However, the South Africans kept piling on the pressure and it was no surprise when skipper Siya Kolisi went over following another powerful lineout maul to hand his side a 14-0 lead.
Steyn, playing at flyhalf for the Boks for the first time since 2008, then slotted a long range penalty kick to make it 17-0.
However, the South Americans scored their first try on the stroke of halftime through scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou, which Emiliano Boffelli converted to make the score at the break 17-7.
The Pumas came back strongly in the second half and Juan Martín González got their second try seven minutes after the restart as he raced past Le Roux to score out wide. When Boffelli slotted the difficult conversion, he narrowed the deficit to 17-14.
Both teams then made numerous changes, with the Springboks sending on Duane Vermeulen and Kwagga Smith, amongst others, in an effort to continue their dominance upfront. The Bok forwards then forced their first penalty try as they mauled powerfully towards the Argentine goal line, and Jeronimo de la Fuente was issued a yellow card his indiscretion during that movement.
Etzebeth was then yellow carded for dangerous play, with both sides now playing with 14 men and with rain falling down, the Boks had to fight hard to keep their 24-14 lead intact.
However, the Boks were then down to 13 men when replacement scrumhalf Faf de Klerk was shown yellow for a cynical offence, which stopped a goal-bound Argentine maul.
Matias Moroni then scored out side, with Boffelli’s conversion pulling the Pumas back to within three points and time running out on the clock, but the Boks still had some gas left in the tank and got themselves into a strong field position.
Launching yet another maul at the Argentinean tryline, Pumas reserve prop Joel Sclavi also got his marching orders after trying to stop a maul illegally, and the Boks were awarded a second penalty try in the process, which allowed the South Africans some breathing space with the score now 31-21 in their favour and less than 10 minutes left on the clock.
With time up, replacement wing Kurt-Lee Arendse was sent over for the Boks’ fifth try – and his second in only his third Test – with speedsters Makazole Mapimpi and Canan Moodie both featuring prominently. Steyn added the extras for the Springboks to record their fourth win of the campaign.
Springboks 38 (17) – Tries: Jasper Wiese, Siya Kolisi, Penalty tries (2), Kurt-Lee Arendse. Conversions: Frans Steyn (3). Penalty goal: Steyn.
Argentina 21 (7) – Tries: Gonzalo Bertranou, Juan Martín González, Matías Moroni. Conversions: Emiliano Boffelli (3).
All Blacks finish home season in style
Applied All Blacks pressure, delivered with unrelenting intent, overcame an Australian effort that bordered on the desperate, even undisciplined, in the 40–14 win in the Lipovitan-D Rugby Championship at Eden Park.
The win left South Africa with the challenge of not only beating Argentina but overcoming a points differential of 39 points, to deny the All Blacks the Rugby Championship title.
The win extended New Zealand’s record to 23 consecutive wins over Australia at the ground since 1986.
Outstanding efforts by the front rowers Tyrell Lomax and Ethan de Groot highlighted the application of the All Blacks pack with locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock marking their world record-equalling 63rd Test together with huge contributions.
New Zealand was better at the breakdown taking 15 turnovers to six while Australia were forced to make 127 tackles to 112 by the All Blacks, who conceded only 12 penalties to 16 by Australia.
Jordie Barrett made his case for more consideration at second five-eighths in the future with a powerful display that committed the Australian defence time and again.
Wing Will Jordan was elusive, especially in the first half, but limped from the field with a leg injury 67 minutes into the game.
Wing Caleb Clarke was safe in coping with high balls kicked in his area, making the tactic redundant, but still employed.
Two early yellow cards, to lock Jed Holloway and hooker David Porecki, were the last thing Australia needed if they were to vent their frustration from the manner of the Melbourne Test defeat 10 days ago.
Up 17-0 at the turn, the All Blacks struck first in the second half when Whitelock scored beneath the posts. Hooker Codie Taylor was able to score in an All Blacks lineout maul and, when he was replaced by Samisoni Taukei’aho, he marked his revival with another driving maul, with four of the backline joining to power the ball over the line.
Australia had the satisfaction of two tries toward the end. The first, created from a partial chargedown of a clearing kick, and giving replacement hooker Fainga’a Folau the chance to score. And on fulltime, Jordan Petaia got over after an Australian penalty kick to the corner resulted in the play moving to midfield where the chance came after another period of torrid All Blacks defener.
New Zealand were not as efficient as they might have wanted in the first quarter, their inability to take chances costly while also allowing Australia the chance to mount their own challenges. That forced the All Blacks to make 25 per cent more tackles in that quarter.
But once they were able to string their moves together, they played at a tempo that Australia couldn’t match. It was that man, Jordan who gave the All Blacks a stunning try, almost from the restart after first five-eighths Richie Mo’ounga opened the scoring with a penalty goal.
Outstanding set-up provided by Jordan in a lineout play and support from flanker Dalton Papali’i, the ball emerged with fullback Beauden Barrett in the line and feeding Jordan who rounded his marker with a superb burst of speed to run in the try.
The Australians infringed and after the All Blacks kicked towards the goal-line they mounted a thrilling driving maul which was taken down by Porecki, resulting in a penalty try, and 10 minutes off the field for the offender.
It was a desperate first half for the Wallabies. They had a try denied when wing Marika Koroibete stepped on the sideline before diving for the line, while on another occasion the ball was held up.
They had plenty of time in the All Blacks’ 22m area, and while receiving penalties rather than opting to kick for goal, they attempted tap penalties or kicked to the corner.
None of the tactics brought reward as sterling home defence held them out.
Some of the defence was frightening in its severity. The Australians attempted to batter down the ramparts but they proved solid and, for the first half at least, impenetrable.
It seemed that whatever they tried whether bullocking runs or high kicks to the All Blacks rearguard the home team were up to the task when it mattered.
Scorers: New Zealand 40 (Will Jordan, Sam Whitelock, Codie Taylor, Samisoni Taukei’aho tries; Penalty try; Richie Mo’unga 2 con, 2 pen) Australia 14 (Folau Fainga’a, Jordan Petaia tries; Bernard Foley con; Reece Hodge con). HT: 17-0
Nike returns as technical apparel provider to the Boks in 2023
The Springboks and SA Rugby will have a new technical apparel provider in 2023. Agreement has been reached with Nike to succeed current partner ASICS, whose contract comes to an end at the end of 2022.
Nike and SA Rugby have agreed a six-year deal – to include the 2023 and 2027 Rugby World Cups – which will see the famous Swoosh appear on the front of the Springbok jersey for the second time. Nike was the team’s apparel partner between 1996 and 2003.
“We enjoyed a great relationship with ASICS and really appreciate the contribution that the company made over the past eight years,” said Jurie Roux, CEO of SA Rugby.
“It’s always sad to see a valued partner depart but we understand that business strategies shift over time and we wish ASICS well in its continued journey in South Africa.”
ASICS EMEA CEO, Carsten Unbehaun, said: “ASICS has been a proud sponsor of the South African Rugby Union (SARU) since 2014, supporting their national squads including the famous Blitzboks Sevens and Springboks teams.
“However, since 2020, ASICS EMEA has been realigning its activities to focus on key sports categories; running, tennis and indoor. Consequently, and in agreement with SARU, ASICS will not renew the contract. We want to thank SARU for its support through the years and wish the team the very best.”
Roux said: “We’re delighted to welcome Nike on board. It is an iconic global brand whose vision for their Springbok partnership impressed us from our first conversation.
“Nike has big plans for the partnership and we’re looking forward to formally launching our new alliance next year,” he added.
Nike takes over as apparel partner from July 2023 and will supply all South Africa’s national teams. It will provide playing kit as well as off-field apparel and footwear for the Boks as well as Springbok Women, the men’s and women’s sevens teams and Junior Boks.
Nike-branded jerseys will only be revealed and in store from July 2023.
Saints sign Bristol forward on loan
Boks win but come up short in title chase in Durban
All Blacks finish home season in style
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