The surprise reason why James O'Connor stood down as Reds captain
Burnt out and injured after starring in the Reds’ 10-year title drought, O’Connor made the choice to step down from the captaincy duties he took on, after Liam Wright’s long-term injury, on the eve of the 2021 season.
The Reds fell away badly in games against New Zealand sides, while a nerve injury and then groin strain left the Wallabies No.10 relegated to the stands until the back-end of a long test calender.
It was an anti-climax for a career that had only surged when the former rugby bad boy sensationally returned to Australia in 2019 from stints in Europe.
“I probably took on a bit too much, wanted to strip it back to focus on the game plan, running that and playing the best I could consistently,” O’Connor, who was crowned Rugby Australia’s Super Rugby Player of the Year on Wednesday, said.
“I felt like I’d possibly burnt out a bit after Super Rugby AU … I was just a little bit off and came into Wallabies camp and did my groin.”
Quade Cooper emerged as a shock first-choice Wallabies halves general in O’Connor’s absence, the Reds No 10 saying this week his ambition to regain that starting berth had not changed.
Tests at home against England are not front of mind though, O’Connor instead focused on ensuring the Reds fare better against trans-Tasman opposition after being humbled last year.
“Our goal was the Super Rugby AU competition, then it was ‘what will happen after that’,” he said.
“I believe we peaked for that AU final … we didn’t play as well as we could’ve (after that) and it’s been a huge pre-season.
“I’ve come back from Spring Tour and seen just physically how much better the guys are.”
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