Still out: James O'Connor is being patient. Photo: Getty Images
JAMES O'Connor has not played a lot this year. The star back has spent most of his time on the sidelines, either in hospital or home recovering from a serious liver injury, or training, often by himself, as he attempted to overcome a troublesome hamstring problem.
So when he missed the chance of being a part of the Wallabies' European tour in November-December because of a continuing problem with his right leg, O'Connor's frustration peaked. But as his Super Rugby club Melbourne Rebels gathered for pre-season training this week, O'Connor said the cautious approach to rule him out of the tour had been the correct decision, with the 22-year-old's focus set on the Rebels' trials in February and the British and Irish Lions tour games next year.
''I'd been running at 100 per cent but there was just something that didn't feel right so we went and got a scan and it still showed a bit of swelling and bleeding,'' O'Connor said.
But O'Connor, who will be given leave for two weeks, said skipping the tour and spending the pre-season with the Rebels had an upside.
''Last [season] we sort of came in on January 12, Kurtley [Beale] and I, and we rushed into playing. It's good to develop a relationship with all the boys on the field. We started with that this year but there's nothing like training and getting some good solid months under your belt so I think it's the right decision just get my body right and hopefully it won't break down again next year,'' he said.
''It's been an eye-opener really. I've never had an injury before this and this year has really shown what the other side of the fence is like and you don't want to be in that boat.
''So it's about doing everything right at training to get yourself ready for it. It's been not only a good break for my body but also mentally because now it's going to be a step back from rugby and take some time off and then come in with a clear head and ready to go for another four years.''
The Rebels came together as a full squad on Monday, with star off-season recruit Scott Higginbotham arriving in Melbourne on the weekend, and O'Connor said he was excited by the look at a preliminary team that was shown to the squad.
''It's looking good on paper … the core group's definitely right up there. It's one of the best core groups that I've played with as a team so it's exciting times,'' he said.
One of the decisions to be made would be whether to play O'Connor, who makes no secret of his desire to play close to the action, at inside centre, five-eighth or full-back.
Beale, with his form in the No.10 jersey last season for the Rebels and during Rugby Championship for the Wallabies, would be first choice at five-eighth and O'Connor said he did not mind whether he played in the No.12 or No.15 jersey, as long as he was used as a playmaker.
''I think I play best where there's two ball players, no more because it then gets a bit clouded,'' O'Connor said. ''To be honest I've had more experience as that N0.2 ballplayer … Kurtley's been playing really well at 10, but I'll definitely be pushing for that position and I think we'll probably fit in pretty nicely in a 10-15 or 10-12 combo.
''The second ball player can either be in the centres or at the back. As long as there's two [playmakers] there and not too many, I'm fine with that. The Wallabies at the moment are playing two big centres and so are the All Blacks, using them to hit the ball up and the 15 comes in second phase. There's no set way to play a game of rugby, you play it around the personnel you have. Each of us have our own strengths and that's what we're going to play to.''