O'Connor makes Reds return after frustrating layoff as Kiss names skipper McDermott on bench

Wed, May 8, 2024, 5:58 AM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
The Crusaders host the Queensland Reds in Round 11 of Super Rugby Pacific 2024.

Reds coach Les Kiss is excited to see flyhalf James O'Connor unleash '12 weeks of frustration' after naming the experienced playmaker to face the Melbourne Rebels.

O'Connor will come off the bench for Friday's match at Suncorp Stadium after overcoming a hamstring tendon injury.

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The hamstring injury was only expected to keep the 33-year-old out for the opening rounds of the season, only for O'Connor to suffer several setbacks.

"James has contributed in a massive way while he’s been on the sidelines as I’ve mentioned a number of times," Kiss said to reporters.

"He’s been a constant resource for our No.10s and to now have him sitting on the bench is fantastic."

O'Connor will be eased back into the action alongside co-captain Tate McDermott.

Kiss has backed Kalani Thomas to start after stepping up in the absence of the Wallaby after his three-match ban for a swinging arm tackle during the Moana Pasifika defeat.

“We thought we’d keep ‘Lawso’ and Kalani together because of their combination over those games. It’ll be nice to have the experience of Tate and James to come off the bench," Kiss explained.

"We have also been really pleased with how Kalani (Thomas) and Louis (Werchon) have gone at halfback in recent weeks.

"...Lawson (Creighton) had a really positive game for us against the Crusaders last weekend. He will take the reins at No.10 and his game management and kicking game will be important again.

O'Connor's return also allows Harry McLaughlin-Phillips to join the Australian Under-20s on the Sunshine Coast.

McLaughlin-Phillips is expected to play a big part in July's U20 World Championships campaign in South Africa after featuring in last year's side that finished fifth.

"This is part of the whole development experience for Harry," Kiss believes. "He's started for the Reds, he's come off the bench, he's played club rugby and now he has the chance to put that experience into the Under-20s.

"I've been in constant conversations with (Australian Under-20s coach) Nathan Grey, who has been very supportive of his development.

"Obviously, playing at the highest level is what Harry wants to do but he also sees the value of playing in this Under-20s comp, as I do."

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