Mitchell promises to look after O’Connor



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Western Force coach John Mitchell has promised that they will look after the teenager James O’Connor if he stays in Perth.

The talented backliner, who had a great Super 14 debut yesterday, could play for all three SANZAR countries and is also wanted by another code.

Becoming the youngest debutant in Super 14 history, at 17 years and 303 days, the diminutive O’Connor did more than enough to justify the hype that has surrounded his early career.

And with his one-year rookie contract at the Force coming to an end, and interest from the Reds and the NRL, agent Anthony Piccone will no doubt be fielding plenty of calls in the coming weeks.

“Certainly a second ball player brings benefits to your game. He has to be admired, the fact he did not show any anxiety at all in the preparation leading up to the game or during the game,” Mitchell told AAP.

“There is a still a lot of development there, but he has got a lot of courage.

“He is lucky to be starting at that age, because there are a lot of good players around. But for him it will be how he uses the experience now, and gets better.

“This is the starting point in his rugby career, and starting so early can often be the hardest way to sustain performance. We will look after him.”

Targeted by Chiefs runners and with the high ball, O’Connor’s performance grew in confidence – with a second-half step and burst setting up James Stannard’s try.

The Force won the match after his mentor Matt Giteau slotted and after-the-siren penalty and O’Connor said he relished the experience.

“It was awesome. I was a bit nervous at the start but once I got in there, first tackle, and got into the game (it was okay),” O’Connor said.

“The first tackle is always the toughest, and I find that when I can focus on my defensive game, the attack will come.

“It was a really tough game and my legs were dead after halftime, but in the second half Gits fed me some good ball, and it opened up so I just had a crack.”

The finish to the game was so frantic skipper Nathan Sharpe admitted he was not aware of the penalty advantage which allowed Giteau to kick the winning points – and Mitchell was so confused after the pace of the last 12 minutes he said he thought the team had drawn rather than won.

“My coaching group were all pretty excited, and surprised there was not a lot of emotion from me because I thought it was a draw,” Mitchell said.

The Force victory means that they are still mathematically in the semi-final hunt and they travel to New Zealand on Wednesday ahead of a clash with the Hurricanes next Friday

The bad news is that they will have to play on without winger Nick Cummins, who is feared to have broken a bone in his left leg and prop Pek Cowan, who suffered an horrific compound dislocation of a thumb.

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