James O'Connor playing for the Rebels. Photo: Getty Images
Injured star James O'Connor might be forced to watch Kurtley Beale cement his position as Wallabies' five-eighth on the European tour but that doesn't mean he's going to hand him the Melbourne Rebels' No.10 jersey.
O'Connor has endured the most frustrating year of his short but impressive career, missing all of the international season and only managing seven Super Rugby games, due to injury.
The 22-year-old came agonisingly close to heading off with the Wallabies on Saturday on the four-Test European tour but medical staff decided to take a cautious approach over his troublesome hamstring and ruled him out.
"I've been running at 100 per cent but there was something that didn't feel right and I got a scan which showed some swelling and bleeding," he said.
O'Connor won't play again until the Super Rugby trials in February rather than risk any long-term damage with the Lions' tour of Australia looming in 2013.
"It's been tough because I thought I'd be back but I think it's the right decision," he said.
O'Connor is determined to have a Rebels' play-maker role, whether that be from five-eighth, inside centre or from fullback and sees himself working well in tandem with Beale.
But he admits he fancies the five-eighth role, a position he thrived in for the Wallabies on last year's European tour.
"There will definitely be some competition," said O'Connor.
"I think I play best in the team where there's two ball-players - no more because then it gets a bit clouded.
"Kurtley's been playing really well at 10 but I'll definitely be pushing for that position and I think we'll fit in quite nicely in a 10-15 combo or 10-12 combo."
The pair were rarely on the paddock together in their debut year for the Rebels, with one or both injured.
If they can stay fit, the backline looks impressive with current Wallabies' halfback Nick Phipps and Test winger Cooper Vuna, who is returning from shoulder surgery, while giant centre Mitch Inman might also be pushing for Test selection this year.
"It's looking good on paper so, if we can get that connection going together, the core group is one of the best I've played in as a team so it's exciting times," O'Connor said.