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O’Connor Finally Confirmed as a Red

James O’Connor’s journey back into the Wallabies set-up has had a major boost

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(Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

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.

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Star Player Commits to Australian Rugby

One of the Wallabies key men has put pen to paper on a new deal with Australian Rugby ahead of the Rugby World Cup

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(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Wallabies lock Izack Rodda has signed a new deal with Australian Rugby and the Queensland Reds despite many of his teammates heading abroad post-World Cup.

The 23-year-old’s new deal will see him stay in the country for another four-years, meaning he will be available for selection come the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France

Rodda is delighted to have been able to confirm the news ahead of the start of the Rugby World Cup in Japan which starts on Friday. 

“It’s good to confirm and announce this before the World Cup starts this week, so I can shift my focus on the Wallabies, but definitely excited and honoured to re-sign with Australian Rugby and the Reds for another four years,” he said.

The news is a boost to the Wallabies as Rodda only has 21 caps for them to his name which falls well below the 60 required to represent the country if a player moves overseas to play. 

That rule has already confirmed that the likes of Samu Kerevi, Adam Coleman and Rory Arnold will all be out of Wallabies contention come the conclusion of the World Cup as they head overseas with less than 30 caps each. 

As well as those players there are a number of high-profile experienced Wallabies leaving the country come the end of the tournament, so this will be a real boost to fans of the green and gold. 

The Wallabies kick start their World Cup campaign against Fiji on Saturday, in what is a must win game as they also face current Six Nations Grand Slam winners Wales in the same pool in which only two can progress to the quarter-finals. 

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Scottish Star Forced Into Early Retirement

One of Scotland’s finest players has been forced to retire from the game due to concussion

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Scotland and Leicester Tigers star David Denton has been forced to retire from professional rugby due to concussion.

The 29-year-old was advised to quit the sport on medical grounds following a concussion which he picked up almost a year ago while playing for the Premiership outfit. 

However, Denton has admitted that he was actually relieved when he found out the news as it was a long time coming. 

“My actual reaction at the time my neurologist told me it was no longer a good idea to play rugby… to be honest there was a bit of relief. This had been building up inside of me for four to five months. I knew there was a strong possibility that this moment (when I had to retire) was coming. By the time I got to it, I had been through all the emotional highs and lows, so I was prepared for it,” he said. 

Although it was a relief Denton also confirmed that it is a blow as he felt like he was getting back to his best and thanked everyone that has helped him along his journey. 

“Of course, it is devastating that my rugby career is ending. After a few years where I had a series of injuries, I had got myself back into a position where I felt, physically and mentally, that I could play the best rugby of my career. I’m incredibly fortunate. Scottish Rugby have helped me, particularly over the last few months. They have been awesome. I’ve spent a lot of time with (Scottish Rugby ambassador) Al Kellock, (chairman) Colin Grassie and (chief operating officer) Dominic McKay and they have helped me hugely, thinking about the transition from being a player to what happens next,” he added. 

He also already has plans for the future and unlike many who leave the playing field, he does not want a position back in rugby as he would like to head into corporate business. 

“The people they have put me in front of (from commerce and industry) has been great. I want to get into the corporate world. Coaching, as a career, was never something that appealed to me. I’m really excited for the next steps in my life,” he finished. 

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, who is currently preparing his side for their Rugby World Cup opening game against Ireland in Japan, took the time to pay his respects to Denton’s career. 

“We’re really disappointed that someone who still had a lot to offer the game both at club level and for Scotland hasn’t been able to do that, but our first thoughts are with his health and his life beyond rugby and it seems to be the right decision to retire. We were hoping that taking some time out of the game would mean he would be available for selection in our world cup training squad and when that didn’t happen we were hopeful he’d be back for next season, but again that’s not happened. We’re going to miss him with Scotland. He played very well last summer after being involved in the Six Nations, playing really well in that game against Argentina, and getting back to the form he was in at the last world cup. As coaches we really enjoyed working with Dave over the years and we wish him all the best in life after rugby,” he said. 

Denton leaves the game with a total of 42 international caps to his name and will be fondly remembered for several explosive games in a Scottish jersey. 

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Williams and Priestland Defend Biggar

Wales fly-half Dan Biggar has come in for a lot of scrutiny of late but now some of the people that know him best have come to his defence

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(Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Wales out-half Dan Biggar has been criticised of late by many fans, but fellow Welshmen JJ Williams and Rhys Priestland have come out to stand up for him while talking to RugbyPass.

Williams, who is Biggar’s current coach at Northampton Saints, believes that Biggar is not only deserving of the Wales No 10 jersey but that he is the best player in the world when it comes to knock-out rugby.

“If you need someone to stay on task, to make sure that they keep their nerve to run a game down, or close a game out in knockout rugby, there is no better player in the world. He’s mentally as tough as hell. I have often said I’d hate to see an argument between him and TJ Perenara. They are two of the most bloody-minded people I’ve ever worked with. If you want to go into battle with anyone, it’s Dan Biggar. He’s an absolute trooper,” he said.

Williams has previously coached the Super Rugby side the Hurricanes, where he worked with Beauden Barrett so the praise will come as a huge boost for Biggar.

Biggar has become Wales’ first-choice fly-half following Gareth Anscombe’s ACL injury in a World Cup warm-up game against England last month and Williams was impressed by how he dealt with being thrown into that match.

“The response he put in against England, after he had criticism, well I thought it was superb. That summed up, in a nutshell, what Dan Biggar can do and who he is as a bloke,” he added.

As well as Williams coming to Biggar’s defence, fellow Welsh No 10 Priestland is full of praise for the Northampton Saint and can’t understand the criticism.

“Look, Dan’s a great competitor, a fantastic kicker and unbelievable under the high ball. I probably see more of him playing for Wales now and whenever he has come on for Anscombe he has had a positive impact. I got better coming across the bridge (to play in the Premiership) and I’m sure he’s the same. It’s a weird one. When Anscombe was playing, there were people asking for him to start, and now Dan is starting they are asking for someone else,” he said.

Whatever people believe it is clear that Biggar’s peers hold him in high regard and believe he could be a vital part to any Welsh success.

Biggar and co have had a frustrating time during their warm-up games with three losses from four games, but will look to turn a corner over the next couple of weeks as they prepare for their opening World Cup match against Georgia on Monday September 23rd.

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