James O'Connor wants Brumbies jumper
April 1, 2013
James O'Connor is but one player seeking to quit Melbourne Rebels © Getty Images
Melbourne Rebels' woes continue with their key attacking player, James O'Connor, being linked with the Brumbies.
The Rebels want every able hand available after their disastrous South African tour, "lowlighted" by the brawl involving three of their leading players, and with head coach Damien Hill under serious threat of being sacked, but sources at both the Rebels and Brumbies have confirmed to ESPN Scrum that there is strong interest in O'Connor moving to Canberra next season. Discussions are understood to have recently taken place.
This comes on top of the Rebels' other key signing, Kurtley Beale, indicating that he wants to return to New South Wales Waratahs next season. Another Rebels regular backline player is also likely to move to Sydney next year.
The Rebels organisation is in a state of disarray, with their inability to perform on-field matched by highly embarrassing moments off the field. The divide within the team was exposed when Beale and Cooper Vuna were forced to return to Australia from South Africa after being involved in a brawl on the team bus, which also involved captain Gareth Delve, while in Durban.
Numerous Rebels players have been unhappy for some time with the direction of the province, and several have repeatedly voiced concerns about a high-ranking and powerful official in the organisation who did not travel to South Africa with the team. Several players are demanding improvement in leadership in numerous areas of the organisation, and they have even provided an alternative from within their own ranks.
The Rebels' season continued to flounder in Bloemfontein (video available only in Australia)%]
Hill's tenure is also under serious threat, and his exasperation showed when he said after the loss to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on the weekend: "There's a big disconnect at the moment between our planning, what we train and then what we do out there, so it's very frustrating. We've got to stop the rot; we need to find a way."
Head office also knows the Rebels are in danger of disintegrating if Beale and O'Connor leave.
It is easy to understand why O'Connor will pursue the Brumbies if he wants to leave Melbourne: unlike the Rebels, who have already leaked 27 tries in six games this season, and who don't seem to know what they are doing - as shown by their miserable showings against the Sharks and Cheetahs - the Brumbies, under a coherent coaching team involving Jake White, Laurie Fisher and Stephen Larkham, know exactly their game plan and focus.
The Brumbies have been easily the standout Australian province this season, with the backs and forwards performing as a coherent unit, playing at high pace and restricting errors to a minimum. The short-term signing of George Smith to bolster their backrow in the absence of the injured David Pocock has been a success, prompting a loud call for him to return to the Wallabies colours against the British & Irish Lions.
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The Brumbies are also currently blessed, taking benefit of a baffling refereeing decision by New Zealander Jonathon White to defeat the Bulls after full-time in Canberra on Saturday night. The Bulls have every reason to feel hard done by.
If O'Connor does appear in the Brumbies colours, the big question is where he will play. A year ago, O'Connor would have walked straight into the Brumbies starting XV. Now, it is not so easy, especially with Matt Toomua excelling at No. 10, Christian Lealiifano doing everything required of him at inside centre, and Jesse Mogg so authoritative at fullback; now some clever readjustments will be required to fit O'Connor in. But the Brumbies will certainly find a way; they are a smart organisation.
The Brumbies beat the Bulls in Canberra courtesy of a contentious refereeing decision (video available only in Australia)
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand