Wallabies training
Wallabies training

White’s night points to an O’Connor comeback

Halfback Nic White's rousing return from the wilderness to the Wallabies is the certain pointer that enigma James O'Connor will make his own Test comeback at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.

White was perfectly on the pace of his first Test in four years in Johannesburg last weekend to show the leap from English club rugby can be as smooth as from Super Rugby.

The sharpness of his passing, often vocal decision-making, tactical kicking and fitness for 65 minutes has quickly stamped him as one of the top two halfbacks for the World Cup beside Will Genia who will play on Saturday.

It did come off the back of White's month in Wallabies' camps to get up to speed with patterns of play and fitness which is the volume that O'Connor will approach with this training week in Brisbane.

A return via the bench against Argentina shapes as the ideal trial to judge if O'Connor can offer some of the same sparkle that Kurtley Beale did with sharp runs and a try-making pass in his late cameo in the 35-17 loss to South Africa.

O'Connor too is coming straight off a strong English season with Sale although it is six years since he played in a gold jersey.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said he'd "fitted in very well but it was a little too soon" for the Test in Johannesburg so some time at inside centre is coming.

 

 

James O'Connor (R) is expected to make his return to the Wallabies against Argentina in Brisbane. Picture: Rugby AU Media/Stuart Walmsley
James O'Connor (R) is expected to make his return to the Wallabies against Argentina in Brisbane. Picture: Rugby AU Media/Stuart Walmsley

 

White, 29, showed the value of a mature figure in Test rugby. He found his passing targets well even with the Springboks rushing in defence, kicked sparingly but superbly and chopped down big centre Jesse Kriel with a desperate tackle.

Coach Michael Cheika had every right to nod at smart recruitment: "We had a lot of quick ball, which he was arranging pretty well with the forwards and making good passing choices. I really rated the way he played the game."

Former Brumby White has the right mindset too.

"It's good individually to get back and to wear the jersey but there's a greater goal we are after and building towards," White said.

"Even though it may have been a little bit clunky, we're not a million miles away with good signs on different things we are trying and when we were patient with the ball.

"Certainly, it's not panic stations. It's what Test rugby is where we just need to take those moments we create."

It's backed up by the numbers from the opening weekend of The Rugby Championship.

The Wallabies made far too little of more clean breaks (13) than South Africa (10) or the All Blacks (11), the most efficient lineout (91 per cent) with throws to five jumpers and an improved tackle completion rate (88 per cent).

White played enough of the Argentinians in English rugby to know the major threat they pose.

"We are going to have our hands full. They've very athletic, muscly guys and they have players whose footwork you think you can read and are very hard to tackle," White said.

Cheika has his front-row to sort out as a priority with James Slipper's head knock and Scott Sio's adductor muscle injury complicating the choice at loosehead prop.

Winger Dane Haylett-Petty's knock-on at the tryline cost the Wallabies what would have been their only lead of the match in Johannesburg.

"We're pretty good at parking those things pretty quickly and it's about moving on," White said.

* A $10 ticket deal for school age kids to watch the Nudgee College-Brisbane State High curtain-raiser is a winner while the Wallabies will host a fan barbecue from 4pm Tuesday at the Northern Plaza of Suncorp Stadium.

News Corp Australia

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