‘O’Connor must play well with others’

James O’Connor passes during an Australian Wallabies training session at Ballymore Stadium on June 18, 2013 in Brisbane, Australia. Photo: Chris HydeStephen Larkham says Wallaby number 10 James O’Connor will be under immense pressure to forge combinations on the field as he tries to guide Australia around the park against the British and Irish Lions.

O’Connor will be confirmed as the chief Wallaby playmaker on Thursday, ending weeks of debate surrounding the position which Quade Cooper, Matt Toomua and Kurtley Beale also had claims.

He will get first crack at the jumper despite having only one start there for the Wallabies (18 months ago against Wales) and just a solitary win from seven games in the position for his Super Rugby franchise.

Larkham, the Wallaby great who is now an assistant coach at the Brumbies, said O’Connor had great individual skills but struggled at times to harness the talents of those around him.

With just one game in six weeks prior to Saturday’s Test, and a new centre outside him in debutant Christian Lealiifano, finding a fluid combination won’t be an easy task as he comes under attention of a hulking Lions pack.

“It’s going to be a massive Test for him and not only that, a test for those playing around him,” Larkham said. “He’s a talented footballer. Individually he’s brilliant. It’s just his combination with others around him that has sometimes let him down.”

Larkham wants Toomua in the Wallabies squad but outside that, believes nobody really put their hand up to be the Australian five-eighth. As such, O’Connor gets a golden opportunity.

But his chance comes with a huge degree of scrutiny.

There could be a silver lining in the selection of Lealiifano whose calmness on the field, playmaking and kicking Larkham believes could take a load off O’Connor’s shoulders.

“I think that combination between him and James O’Connor, it’s going to be really difficult in the first game. The beauty of Christian’s game is they way he’s so composed out on the field,” Larkham said.

“He reads the game really well and he communicates better than anyone else. And I think that’s only going to be good for James O’Connor’s game.

“He definitely has some silky skills there and makes really smart decisions when he’s passing. It’s going to be a real plus for James knowing that someone like that can step in and take the pressure off him.”

Larkham was part of the 2001 Wallaby side that lost the first Test against the Lions at the Gabba.

That squad had a warm-up against the New Zealand Maoris and was still stung by the tourists in the opener before bouncing back to take the series.

Larkham believes a lack of game play – and therefore a lack of time to test combinations in a game environment – is a major concern for the Wallabies this time around.

“No, it’s definitely not ideal. I guess the one thing is they’re reasonably fit. I know the amount of training they have been doing in camp has kept them that way. But combinations are going to be an issue out there on the field,” Larkham said.

Larkham is part of the Classic Anzacs team playing a British and Irish XV at Ballymore on Saturday night, with the match raising funds for Mates4Mates, which supports injured or sick members of the Australian Defence Force.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.