O'Connor back as Reds attempt to control Drua 'chaos'
James O'Connor is wary of Fijian Drua's "structured chaos" as he prepares for his first start of the Super Rugby Pacific season in a banana-peel clash for the Queensland Reds.
The Drua (2-1) stunned defending champions the Crusaders last weekend and almost upset the Reds (1-2) when they met last year at Suncorp Stadium.
It's no surprise O'Connor, who had ankle surgery in the off-season after he was dropped from the Wallabies squad, knows what to expect.
"Their progress is really good to see," he said of the second-year outfit.
"They're playing that style of footy that is hard to defend ... turning that structure into chaos."
Wallabies centre Hunter Paisami (concussion) won't play on Sunday in Brisbane, coach Brad Thorn opting to promote Taj Annan for a starting debut rather than use O'Connor or even Jordan Petaia at No.12.
It means O'Connor will get a chance to showcase his playmaking to new Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, while Tom Lynagh is on the bench after a promising three-game stint to begin the year at five-eighth.
Suliasi Vunivalu had been benched to make room for Petaia on the wing, and Jock Campbell at fullback.
But Thorn on Saturday confirmed an ankle complaint had ruled Petaia out, with Vunivalu restored on the flank and Mac Grealy promoted to the bench.
"The way we think the game's going to go, we went with a different option," O'Connor said when asked if his switch to inside centre had been considered.
"(Annan is a) big 12, a big body, good passing game, good left foot and loves a bit of contact.
"He's salivating, getting his shoulder ready."
The Reds scored 10 tries against the Western Force a fortnight ago and played expansively in the second half of a tight loss to the Brumbies last weekend.
But O'Connor said they wouldn't go into their shells to nullify the Drua's desire for open, fast rugby.
"Rugby isn't a highly changeable sort of game; it's doing the basics well and picking a few things we want to tweak," he said.
Thorn said Petaia's injury was minor.
"His body's been in the best shape I've seen it, he's been in a good space," the coach said of the World Cup hopeful.
"He's just looked in great form, so we'll give him a week (to rest) and Suli is just really hungry to play."
QUEENSLAND REDS: Dane Zander, Matt Faessler, Zane Nonggorr, Ryan Smith, Seru Uru, Liam Wright (capt), Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott, James O'Connor, Filipo Daugunu, Taj Annan, Josh Flook, Suliasi Vunivalu, Jock Campbell. Replacements: Richie Asiata, Sef Fa'agase, Peni Ravai, Jake Upfield, Connor Vest, Kalani Thomas, Tom Lynagh, Mac Grealy.