James O’Connor Is Wallaby Flyhalf - Green and Gold Rugby

James O’Connor Is Wallaby Flyhalf

James O’Connor Is Wallaby Flyhalf

JOC SteppingThe speculation is over – James O’Connor is Wallaby flyhalf for the first test against the British & Irish Lions on Saturday.

So, rather than debating whether he should play there or not, let’s turn our focus to the areas he’ll need to pay attention to if he’s going to be successful in guiding the Wallabies around the park on Saturday night. I think there are six key areas for a flyhalf as follows (not in any order of importance):

  1. Defence;
  2. Occupying the defence;
  3. Distribution to the key ball carriers;
  4. Kicking in general play;
  5. Decision making; and
  6. Game management.


JOC’s defence has been quite good in the limited game time he’s had in 2013 for the Rebels – 65 tackles attempted and only 5 missed for a 92% completion rate.

I don’t have statistics for his defence when in the front line as opposed to when playing in the back three but, particularly with Jamie Roberts unavailable for the Lions, I don’t expect JOC’s defence in the front line will be tested that much and shouldn’t be an issue.

Occupying Defenders

It’s a vital role of the flyhalf to pose a running threat for the defence. If a flyhalf doesn’t take the ball to the line from time to time, the defence can focus their attention solely on the ball carriers.

When JOC played at #10 for the Wallabies in 2011 against the Barbarians and Wales one of the things I was impressed with was his direct running – there was very little cross field running and if he decided to take the ball to the line he made the decision very quickly. That speed of decision making is so important – either go for it or distribute the ball quickly – don’t hesitate, which gives the defence time to move up on you and then when they’re in your face, distribute to another player and transfer the pressure to them. Every moment you spend crabbing across field gives the defence the advantage.

Watching JOC play #10 for the Rebels this year in Super Rugby he still shows some of the directness he exhibited in 2011 but he’s also been guilty of running across field too much. If he does that against the Lions he’ll create a lot of pressure for the Wallabies.


JOC has a reasonable passing game. He can make a long pass and he can pass left to right, however like nearly every player in world rugby his right to left pass is better. I don’t see his passing as a major problem.

The keys things I think he needs to focus on in this area are not starting too deep and the speed of distribution – give the ball early enough so that the ball carrier still has enough time to do something with it before the defence gets to them.


JOC’s a reasonable kicker and doesn’t have a problem with distance – after all his average kick of 43 metres in Super Rugby this year compares favourably to Jesse Mogg’s average of 44 metres.

However, distance is not all that’s required – I showed you the other day where the space is with the Lions defensive system and if the Wallabies are to take advantage of this space JOC will have to be very accurate under pressure.

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  • Moons

    Everyone needs to realize that he will be the 10! Let’s get behind him Aussies!!

    • Stin

      Well he’s been named as 10 so they’d be stupid not to realise. Scott I hope you’re right about his defence. I think they will still probe that channel. And I think Davies is a trickier option for him and Lilo to deal with than Roberts.

      • Moons

        Come to terms that he has been named at 10 and get behind him*******

        • Stin

          Yep – agree absolutely.

    • Pete

      Drop him for good.
      He’s more focussed on his “brand” than the team.

  • Mart

    Another great analysis Scott.
    I’ve always thought he was better suited to 12, like Matt Giteau. More of a runner than distributor.
    I think the Wallabies would be better playing with a natural flyhalf like Matt Toomua.

    But I’m happy to be proved wrong. And as we know he’s a massive talent so I’m sure he’ll produce the goods.

    • Scott Allen

      I think most people would disagree with my view that #10 is his best position.

      However I think he is a ‘natural’ flyhalf and just needs a lot more time there to show what he can do.

      • maddawgs

        you are kidding yourself if you think he is a natural 10 Scott. A “Natural” fly half’s first instinct in attack is not to run side ways and destroy the whole flow of the backline movement. He is the furthest thing away from a natural fly half, don’t get me wrong JOC is a great rugby player but he does not have the vision or movement to enhance the players outside of him. The only time JOC ran straight to hold up the Lions defence was the tries he scored (which was individual Skill rather then set move or play,in which he executes very well out on wings/centre’s). Statistics never tell the whole story and im sure you would agree after this series loss to the lions JOC won’t be playing fly half again for a very long time.

    • Dougs

      I agree. His “point of difference” to use a Robbie Deansism, is his footwork, acceleration and pound-for-pound strength. I agree he has very good distribution but most of his highlights following a game are him darting around tired forwards, not throwing magic balls for tries (though there are plenty of those too). I, like most, think for this reason he is wasted out wide, but I also think he’s not a natural organiser and 10 doesn’t fit perfectly either. 12 is the best balance.

      That said, he’s a monster talent and I’m sure will be fine. I think it’s a reflection of his talent that he can play so well in positions which don’t suit him. I just hope I get to see a Toomua/O’Connor, Cooper/O’Connor or a Foley/O’Connor ticket (to keep everyone happy) at some stage in the next 12 months to see what they can do.

      Come Sat night though, I’ll be in the stands at Suncorp (ahh felt good to say, did I mention platinum tickets?), 3 parts pissed, cheering so loudly I’ll sound like an injured Hyena and won’t give a sheisen who’s been picked. Carn the Wallabies!!!

  • Chris McCracken

    Not only is that a really good analysis for JOC, but I’ll be sending our club’s juniors here to read how a flyhalf is supposed to play.

  • Robson

    I’m pretty relaxed about JOC being at 10 for this match. But what are the other options ? Quade?? He was never going to get selected anyway. Pity, but that’s how Mr Deans thinks; irrespective of what he is saying and he did say that he didn’t have a problem with Quade (or words to that effect). What about Beale?? Not enough recent rugby to take a “run on risk” with him, but it could happen later in the game. Liileafano?? Great talent, but he’s greener than JOC.
    And last, but certainly not least. Berrick Barnes?? No risk factor to lose any sleep over there. But no X factor either, and that is what JOC brings to the table – the X factor. So in many ways I’m staggered that Mr No Risks, Play What’s In Front Of You, Deans hasn’t actually picked Barnes to start at 10 ahead of all the rest. Yes JOC does carry a risk factor into this test cauldron, but I don’t think for a momemt that those risk factors will contribute directly to a loss by the Wallabies. On the other hand, the X factor he has is always a danger to the opposition and could be the winning factor for the Wallabies.
    Good to see the Wallabies also have two excellent goal kickers in JOC and Barnes. And talking about goals, the Wallabies are going to have to be on their very best behaviour in their own half because Halfpenny will make them pay for each and every misdemeanour in more than pennies.

    • Bairdy

      Toomua and Foley are the other options from the ones you mentioned already.

  • jutsie

    Hi scott thanks for the analysis. I am surprised you think 10 is JOC’s best position but you make sense.
    If you have time is it possible for you to rate how o’connor compares to his competition (cooper, beale, toomua) in the categories you list or even to sexton?

  • handles

    Well, I can’t help but think this backline gives the guy playing 10 a lot more scope than Quade has every had while wearing the ‘yellow’ jumper. Folau running onto Cooper’s long passes, ****sigh****.

    But, whatever, we will play with the cards Robbie dealt us.

    How are we going to manage the kick return? Berrick is not a good decision maker, and not a fantastic kick. Folau will dish it striaght to him. Neither Folau nor Ioane will kick. O’Connor or Genia will need to be out of the front line, in my opinion.

    • packy

      Good point. If Deans wont pick Quade this year, and Folau goes back to League, we’ll never get to see Quade putting Folau into space
      ….. until …..
      they’re both playing state of origin

  • Willus

    Great analysis Scott with just a question to add, the part of the video at roughly 04:33 is when Halfpenny was binned. Do you think you would have rated his decision making as well had Halfpenny not been binned?

    • Scott Allen

      Not sure what you mean there Willus with JOC’s decision making – the rest of the play leading up to Halfpenny getting binned is at around 1:26 in the video. It’s Barnes that puts the kick through, not JOC.

      But even for Barnes I think he made the right decision to kick – the pass to JOC was covered inside.

      • Willus

        Sorry, at 04:33 onwards leading up until Lachie Turner’s there is a numerical advantage for the Wallabies (Halfpenny has already been binned at this point). I saw that you rated his decision making highly but I was wondering if that would be the same if Halfpenny wasn’t in the bin? ie: if there wasn’t a numerical advantage?

        • Scott Allen

          The decision to take advantage of the numerical advantage was good.

          If there was no numerical advantage (because Halfpenny was still on the field) I’m guessing he might not have gone that way.

          Can’t really rate a hypothetical decision or am I still missing the question you had?

        • Willus

          hahah no it’s been addressed.

  • Jack Howes

    JOC is going to spend plenty of time out in the centres. He’ll switch through first receiver with Lilo throughout the entire match. There is a world of difference having JOC play 10 with Sidey outside him compared to Lilo.

  • Murray Kinsella

    Excellent analysis Scott, really enjoyed it. The last issue in the video is an interesting one from my point of view as a Lions fan. At times, it seems that Phipps has had to make decisions on where the Rebels attack himself. As highlighted in the video, on several occasions he just bypasses JOC as he stand and watches on. Having said that, with Genia, Leali’ifano and Barnes helping out, I don’t think the Wallabies will suffer. You would hope that trio will also allow JOC to pop up a little wider on a few occasions.

  • aaman

    i like to experiment if this wasnt the lions but italy or scotland i would try o’connor at 13 so he is runner but he gets more ball christian lealiifano at 12 and quade 10

  • brumby runner

    I think JOC will still need to be at his best defensively even without Roberts. I have been most impressed with Sexton’s ability to make the inside pass and put a big runner through the 19 channel. I can see both Lion’s wingers and Faletau all coming at JOC at pace.

  • Swat

    The video has been taken down by SANZAR wtf?

  • Garry

    I think you’ve under-rated his D skills. He’s dominated some some big-uns over the years.
    Pound for pound?

  • Martin Dunham

    In USA, this is the message we got: “This video contains content from SANZAR Pty Ltd, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.”

  • Jammers

    Pretty sure Brisbane clearly highlighted that JOC is not a 10. Pretty sure everyone was saying this prior to the game with the exception of Deans… Is the guy blind or something?


Scott is one of our regular contributors from the old days of G&GR. He has experience coaching Premier Grade with two clubs in Brisbane.

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