James O'Connor believes he's only now appreciating the beauty of rugby, likening his stint as Queensland Reds captain and progression as a No.10 to being unplugged from the Matrix.
The 30-year-old's time as stand-in captain could be up with backrower Liam Wright pushing for a return from an ankle injury in Saturday's crucial Super Rugby AU clash with the Brumbies.
He debuted for the Wallabies as a flashy 18-year-old but on Tuesday admitted it had taken almost a decade to sink in, joking that like Neo in the cult science fiction film The Matrix, he now saw the sport in a different light.
"I didn't know rugby before I was 27 and now I'm understanding it and putting more time into it and it's beautiful, the game," he said.
"I have a huge amount of respect (for captains) ... there's a lot that comes with the role and you have to learn to balance that because the first two rounds I was focusing more on the team instead of myself.
"As soon as you lose that balance your own game suffers; not saying it did because I feel I'm really finding some form and learning how to play 10."
With grand final hosting rights on the line, coach Brad Thorn must decide whether to make room for Wright, who injured his ankle in a pre-season trial, in his unbeaten side or holster him until the final round against the Western Force.
A return for the Wallabies backrower, even off the bench, would be a tough call on whoever misses out given Seru Uru and Angus Scott-Young have flourished in his absence.
"I'd be happy to give him back the 'C' that's for sure," O'Connor said.
"He's been training very well for two weeks and he'd be very welcome back into the team, brings so much energy and leads through his actions."
The two sides played out a classic in their last encounter, the Reds prevailing 40-38 to set up a tasty second course in Brisbane this weekend.
"Pressure, what's pressure? We love it. That's why you play the game. The bigger the game I feel I thrive," he said.
"I said it last round, we want this one bad, we want a contest and we're up for it.
"It's a challenge. We'll call them out, they'll call us out and let's see who the best man on the day is."