Ten years on from his Wallabies’ heroics in Hong Kong, James O’Connor is stepping up to kick match-winning goals again in a welcome and familiar sight for Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn. Thorn was an All Black in 2010 when a fresh-faced O’Connor kicked the winner against him, the coach recalling the moment after he did similar in Friday’s 32-26 defeat of the NSW Waratahs.
Fullback Bryce Hegarty had made three of his six attempts for the night and, with the game locked up the Reds’ No.10 seized the moment.
His two late, emphatic penalties were the difference as the Reds snapped a seven-year, 11-game losing streak against their border rivals to launch Super Rugby AU.
“It went down to the wire there and James stepped up, a nice cool head,” Thorn said.
“I think James stepped up and said ‘I want to take it’.
“It was a bit of a frustrating game at times, trying to get the flow of the game, but he just said ‘enough’s enough’.
“(It reminded me of) standing there in Hong Kong in 2010 and a young kid stepped up … I remember thinking ‘if the kid kicks it, good on him’.”
O’Connor, the oldest player of a young Reds outfit on Friday, will turn 30 on Sunday.
He managed a groin complaint earlier this year that stopped him from kicking, but has returned from the shutdown fully fit and confident after sessions with renowned kicking coach Dave Alred.
“I think this break’s been good for him for his condition and for a lot of the lads,” Thorn said.
Both teams enjoyed the mid-week banter and the competition nature of the derby but Thorn wasn’t entirely pleased, insinuating it was gamesmanship that led to prop Taniela Tupou’s second-half sin-binning.
Twice the forward ran through and knocked over the Waratahs kicker, first conceding a penalty down-field and then being yellow-carded for his troubles.
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But neither were particularly late or high shots, Thorn believing Tupou’s only crime was stupidity.
“If they’re seriously injured and go down they should get a HIA,” he said.
“Because clearly they were fine … rugby’s a tough game, I’m not a huge fan of that sort of stuff.
“On my side as well; I don’t want my players going down with a dramatic fall.
“They should take it, get up and get on with the game.”
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