Although they sit 10th in the table Irish appear to be heading in the right direction as many had them tipped to go down this season. It’s important to remember that at the end of a disappointing season this year London Irish parted ways with a host of top talent such as Alex Corbisiero, Jonathan Joseph and Matt Garvey.
In their place came a raft of players who for the most would be considered solid if unspectacular having arrived from the Championship this summer. Fortunately Smith and his team seem to have been able to mould a strong team spirit amongst the squad as they have battled hard so far this season.
Irish have already toppled Harlequins in the league and have come close to securing a number of narrow victories already this season. The likes of Marland Yarde, Topsy Ojo and Ian Humphreys have been looking excellent so far this year and are part of a backline that looks capable of taking on the best the league has to offer.
It has therefore come as something of a surprise that Smith has secured the signature of one of the most disruptive influences currently in World rugby. There does however appear to be some reasoning in the madness as London Irish capture one of the most talented players currently in the game.
First of all it looks likely that O’Connor will only be with the Exiles until the end of the season which immediately reduces the risk involved in signing such a volatile character. This may in part help to explain why the board appear to have been so willing to splash the cash on a man who will not be coming cheap.
For most of the off-season it appeared the Irish suits were keen not to part with their cash as they replaced top class Premiership players with unproven Championship talent. This may have been in part down to the niggle in the back of their minds worrying them that they could face the threat of relegation once again this season.
The fact O’Connor is unlikely to be tied into a long-term contract significantly reduces the risk should the worst happen and Irish suffer the ignominy of relegation this season. In fact for the likely outlay O’Connor could well prove to be the difference between another relegation dog fight or a climb up the table.
It is important to remember that at just 23 O’Connor has already amassed 44 caps for Australia including three Lions test in the pivotal fly half position. On his day he is one of the most talented attacking players in the World and if he can keep his head together could well light up the Premiership this year.
It is easy to see how being propelled to stardom at such a young age could have caused O’Connor to stray from the path many hoped he would follow but under Brian Smith’s stewardship it is hard to imagine him taking too many liberties. It seems there is no place for egos in the Exiles dressing room and any antics by O’Connor are likely to be dealt with swiftly by Smith and his coaching team.
In such an environment and away from other notorious bad influences in the Wallabies set-up O’Connor looks like he could really thrive at the Madjeski. His ability to play right across the backline will be a huge boost for Irish who look light on numbers, particularly with Marland Yarde looking set to be involved with England throughout the season.
All-in-all it looks like Irish have got themselves an excellent player to fill in whilst the squad looks thin and O’Connor finally has an environment where he can get his head down and look to get back in the Wallabies set-up ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
How do you think James O’Connor will get on at London Irish?