James O’Connor knows all about making the most of second chances and he’s thrilled to see his Wallabies teammate Hunter Paisami do the same.
Both players have their own redemption stories after being sacked for off-field incidents, but scrapped their way back to play in Australia’s 16-16 Bledisloe Cup draw with the All Blacks in Wellington.
Paisami made his Test debut at outside centre, a feat that seemed a mile off when he was sacked by the Melbourne Rebels in 2018.
Yet to make his Super Rugby debut Paisami, then 20, was charged with affray after a drunken fight outside a nightclub and despite his promise was cut loose by the Rebels.
Paisami left his family in Melbourne and headed to Queensland to play club rugby with his power-packed running game catching the eye of the Reds.
He got his first Super Rugby start this year through an injury to Jordan Petaia, and his absence with a hip issue also handed Paisami his Wallabies debut.
Former bad boy O’Connor also landed back at the Reds this year and said he was all-too-familiar with Paisami’s experience.
“Hunter came to the Reds when I arrived and he’s been on a journey himself,” O’Connor said after the Wellington Test.
“I can appreciate where he’s been and how he’s had to turn his life around and go from the bottom like I did and come back into the light
“For him, he had a huge call moving to Brisbane without his family or anyone around him to follow his career, follow his gut.
“He went after his dream and now he’s gone from playing club footy one year to playing for the Wallabies so I’m definitely very proud of him.”
Whether Paisami holds his spot for the Eden Park Test depends on the fitness of Petaia but O’Connor believes he has a long future ahead in the gold jersey.
“What he gives to us in the (Wallabies) midfield is that he allows Matty (Toomua) to ball play at the line,” the 30-year-old said.
“His game has grown this year – he’s starting to throw the long cut pass and squaring defenders up and he put a nice little kick in.
“I don’t think many people see this creativity he has but when you train with him you can actually see the ball skills he has.
“I know he’s playing 13 but I think eventually he will play 12 and he’s going to be one of the greats that’s for sure.”
– Melissa Woods
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now