James O’Connor is looking to celebrate a milestone he thought may never come when he leads Queensland against the Blues in their Super Rugby Trans-Tasman clash on Friday night.
The Reds will be out to back up their hard-fought victory over the Chiefs, which stands as the only win by an Australian team over a Kiwi opponent after three rounds.
The Suncorp Stadium match will be the 30-year-old’s 100th Super Rugby appearance, coming 13 years after he made his debut as 17-year-old playing for Western Force.
“I was with the Force playing against the Reds and I came on with about 20 minutes to go and made about four errors in that time so I tried to forget that pretty quickly,” O’Connor said on Tuesday.
The Wallabies five-eighth said he, like many, didn’t think he would make it to 100 Super Rugby games with his career forced to take a detour overseas.
“For a big part of my career I didn’t think I’d get back home to Australia,” he said.
“I’ve been open that I was going to give it one last shot but the thought of retirement definitely played on my mind.
“I put my head down and got to work and I’m enjoying the fruits of my labour and being a part of this group.”
The Reds veteran, who recently re-signed until after the 2023 Rugby World Cup, had some wise words for that fresh-faced teenager making his debut.
“Probably just to enjoy the process. It’s not always about the outcome,” O’Connor said.
“When I was younger I was always chasing the next thing, the next milestone, it was always about chasing pleasure so my advice is about enjoying the smaller moments in life.”
The Blues are unbeaten, having thumped the Waratahs, Rebels and Brumbies and O’Connor knows they will be a step up on the Chiefs.
“The Blues are on top of the table. They’ve played really well in both Super Rugby Aerotoa and this Trans-Tasman comp,” he said.
“They’re a very physical team and they play exciting footy so for us it’s another great challenge but I know the guys are up for the job.
“We’re starting to feel that flow. It’s a very different dynamic the way Kiwis play and it took us a bit longer for us to adapt.”