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How James O'Connor's return against Blues could shape race for Wallabies No 10 role

By AAP
(Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

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Former Wallabies captain Andrew Slack isn’t sure who should wear the No 10 against England but sees the Queensland Reds’ trip to an Australian rugby graveyard as a timely one for James O’Connor.

The Reds’ five-eighth will return from a knee injury to face the Blues on Saturday at Eden Park in Auckland, where they haven’t won for 10 years and the Wallabies haven’t tasted success since Slack was at the helm in 1986.

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O’Connor had been in fine form before injury meant he missed the first three games against New Zealand opposition, the depleted Reds falling from 7-1 to 7-4 as a result.

“They’ve just been lacking a bit of voice probably; it’s a heck of a thing (for rookie Lawson Creighton) to be thrown in at No 10 against the Kiwi sides,” Slack told AAP.

“When things haven’t worked in the midst of a game we haven’t been versatile enough to change a few things.”

The Blues (10-1) remain equal first with the Brumbies and boast a backline of Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett, Caleb Clarke, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Rieko Ioane that put 71 points on the Melbourne Rebels last week.

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If O’Connor can navigate that threat it would show Slack he’s the man to wear the No.10 against England in July, ahead of emerging Noah Lolesio and Japan-based Quade Cooper.

“I don’t know (who should play at No.10 against England), is the short answer,” Slack, a former Wallabies selector and Reds coach, said.

“He’ll (O’Connor) clearly be in the mix but I don’t know, it’s difficult and it’s an important question.

“Lolesio deserved his spot a year or so again, he’s got the goods, but he’s got a little way to go after a difficult introduction.

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“The Reds need composure (to beat the Blues), need to make better decisions, kick a bit better than we have and we’ve fallen off a few more tackles in recent weeks.”

They will be without flankers Harry Wilson (concussion) and Fraser McReight (illness), while Taniela Tupou (calf) said on Friday he’s unlikely to play again for the Reds this season.

But test centre Hunter Paisami will return and wingers Jordan Petaia and Suliasi Vunivalu provide enough punch and options for in-form halfback Tate McDermott, who will enjoy the return of O’Connor.

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