O’Connor boost for hat-trick chasing Rebels

The Rebels bid to secure their first ever hat-trick of victories in Super Rugby looks set to be boosted by the return of Wallabies playmaker James O’Connor.

O’Connor has missed the Rebels recent turnaround which has seen them beat the Stormers and the Waratahs in recent weeks but went through a contact session at training yesterday.

The Wallaby playmaker’s return to fitness is timely as the British and Irish Lions play their first match this weekend and O’Connor is in line to be named at number 10 for the Wallabies.

This weekend’s Reds vs Rebels clash at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday will be of particular interest as it puts James O’Connor up against Quade Cooper who many believe should start for the Wallabies against the Lions.

The Reds forwards are set to target O’Connor’s sternum injury which has seen him miss the last three Rebels matches.

“Who doesn’t send traffic at the No.10?” Reds coach Ewen McKenzie told The Courier-Mail.

“Everyone does that, there’s no surprises there.

“There are opportunities and we’ll look to see if we can exploit them.”

“They’ve been doing well in (O’Connor’s) absence,” McKenzie said.

Unless there are some surprises in selection this match will be the first time that Cooper will face O’Connor since the Reds playmaker was left out of the Australian squad for the British and Irish Lions series.

While Cooper has been left out of the Wallabies squad, O’Connor will arguably be under more pressure to perform as he needs to put in a good peformance to keep Cooper from being called while also building fitness and confidence having missed much rugby over the last year.

Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has chosen O’Connor ahead of specialist, and in-form, flyhalves Cooper and Matt Toomua despite the fact he is not the Rebels’ first choice No.10 so the pressure is on the Rebels star.

The match will also be the first time that former Reds forward Scott Higginbotham has played as a visitor in the stadium where he won his 2011 Super Rugby title.

Higginbotham has captained the Rebels in recent matches and is their top try scorer with 7 tries this season.

“Scotty’s been playing really well. That leadership role is one he’s been craving for a while,” said Reds halfback Will Genia.

“He seems to be thriving. He’s a more consistent and complete performer.”

The Reds have lost their last two matches – both in South Africa – which has allowed the Brumbies to open up a five point gap in the Australian Conference so the Rebels clash is a must win for the Queenslanders.

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