"I want to come back to the Test team and be a ball player" ... James O'Connor. Photo: Getty Images
THE Wallabies are resigned to not seeing their Test captain James Horwill until at least the end-of-season northern hemisphere tour, but the chances of their first-choice five-eighth James O'Connor playing in the Rugby Championship improve by the day.
Horwill will undergo scans on a major hamstring tear early next week, with fears he may not play again until next season. O'Connor is also heading to a medical centre in Melbourne on Tuesday for scans on his lacerated liver, which has sidelined the Rebels and Wallabies pivot for two months.
O'Connor, who has been involved in non-contact work during the Wallabies' training camp in Melbourne, yesterday believed he would play again on June 29 when the Rebels play the Reds in Melbourne, and anticipated rejoining the Test team in August when the Wallabies are involved in the first Bledisloe Cup match against the All Blacks in Sydney.
O'Connor said he was running at 75 per cent, while the scan would ''determine my immediate future''.
''I will find out how my liver is recovering. My first scan indicated it was healing pretty quickly, but not at the rate I was hoping for to play in the June Tests,'' he said.
''I want to come back to the Test team and be a ball player. I haven't made any secret about that.''
In the interim, Berrick Barnes, originally the fourth-choice Test five-eighth, overcame the trauma of Newcastle with a vastly improved performance in Brisbane, while David Pocock, with Horwill away, has excelled in the captaincy role, vying with Will Genia for man-of-the-match honours at Suncorp Stadium last Saturday night.
Wallabies insiders have made note of Pocock's maturity, how he handled the loss to Scotland in Newcastle, and rallied the troops with aplomb in Brisbane. He has received praise from countless team officials, surprising many with how quickly he has acquitted himself to the vast responsibilities and pressure of being Test captain.
It is not just Pocock's on-field leadership that has enthused all, especially in how he kept his team focused in the first Test, but how he has taken to the many off-field duties that are not seen by the public. What has tantalised the Wallabies' fraternity is that what he tells the team is what he tells the media. There are no different agendas in operation.
How Pocock has risen to the role has some mulling over what will occur when Horwill eventually returns. It would not surprise if the pair share the role, as both are clearly leaders.
The art of a captain is being unselfish, and Pocock has showed his embracing nature whenever he is asked about his back-up Michael Hooper. Normally players can be paranoid about their underling. However after the Brisbane Test victory, without prompting, Pocock emphasised what an important role Hooper played when he came off the bench in the 59th minute. Hooper immediately dominated the breakdown, enabling the Wallabies to rally when Wales rebounded from being 20-6 down to drawing near at 20-19.
''Michael's impact in the first Test was huge for us, when he came off the bench. Having someone who is a specialist at the breakdown coming into the game when people are tiring is a pretty good move. We will be looking to profit from that,'' Pocock said.
A sign of respect is when opponents imitate, and Wales have responded to the Pocock-Hooper combination, by also selecting a specialist No. 7 fetcher - Justin Tipuric - on the bench.